Crazy. Real.

hanging up the normal suit

The Master Artist

When I was a teen, I had the incomparable benefit of being able to visit the Louvre. The artwork I saw there stunned me and left an indelible imprint upon my heart and mind. I’ll never forget the hushed and solemn atmosphere of that beautiful place, as good as any church for engendering feelings of reverence and awe in me.

Some of the paintings were small, like the Mona Lisa, and others covered entire walls of the enormous palace. Battle scenes in life sized proportion stretched out before me, Biblical scenes came alive in vivid color, historical vignettes brought my studies to life, and countless portraits caused me to stand in studied wonder.

As a teen, and as an adult, I have been a devotee of the Impressionist Movement and the works of art it spawned are among my very favorites. The feeling of movement, the bright colors, the fresh subject matter–it all combined to create what I think are some of the most beautiful works of art in history.

So it’s no surprise that I think of God as an Impressionist. The divine artist at work in my life is no doubt holding his palette, dabbing at my life with the quick, practiced strokes of Renoir standing in an open field, marking down each vibrant red poppy.

One truth about Impressionist art is that it is best taken in at a distance. Because of the nature of the flowing colors and sense of motion, the images only coalesce and make sense when looked at from a few feet away. The true beauty and vibrancy can only be appreciated from the proper perspective.

This is true of my own life as well.

Like a small child at a museum, however, I stand with my face practically pressed against the paint, unable to make heads or tails out of what I am looking at.

Step back, God calls. Step back. See my hand. See, I am still at work, I have not rested nor forgotten this painting. You are my masterpiece, and I will complete what I have begun. Come, draw close to me. See from my perspective.

And, wonder of wonders, the closer I am to him, the more I see the big picture. The better my focus becomes, and I can relax and trust the master artist. His plan for this paltry piece of canvas, stretched across the years I am given, is better than any I could conceive.

 

Phil 1:6

 

 

Purposeful Pain

When I was a little girl, I would throw up every time I got a shot. I would worry so much and so far in advance of the actual needle that when the time came to receive it, my muscles would be so tense that the doctor would have to jab harder just to get the damned thing into my flesh. Hence, it was twice as painful and traumatic as it needed to be.

As a woman, I’ve learned that physical lesson over and over again in childbirth. Labor pains are, well, painful. But they do a good work, and if you resist and tense up, they hurt worse and worse. Delivery 101. Not only that, but labor itself winds up taking longer. Longer, and more painful. Who wants that? I was taught–and I learned–to relax, to appreciate the waves of agony for what they were doing: bringing a blessing into my life.

So here I am. Older, but no wiser. Learning all over again how to relax, how to submit, how to stop striving against the pain of this life and instead let it flow over me, let it wash me clean, allow it to bring a blessing into my life. The more I thrash and scream, the longer it takes, and the more painful it is. Why do I do it?

Lack of trust.

I have a deep seated fear that I will simply give birth to the wind and nothing more, that the agony is worthless and void.

This is a lie.

If I will but persevere, if I will trust the one who is orchestrating the music and madness, then I will find that there is great purpose in the pain, that it is bringing with it a great blessing.

Can I trust that much? Can I trust that when things become even more intense and I think I cannot go on one more moment, the event is even at that moment on the horizon? That birth is imminent?

I remember how comforting it was during labor and delivery to hold my beloved’s hand, how he let me crush it as each contraction overtook me, how he didn’t leave my side but whispered words of encouragement even as I struggled. What a beautiful metaphor for the one who stands beside us through the mess and muck and into the glory.

Because it is that: messy. Oh, how very, very messy. And so frightening at times. But if we listen, we can hear the whispers of the encourager as he tells us to persevere.

For so many years now I couldn’t hear the whispers over my own cries. I felt abandoned and distraught. But I believe they were always there. And I’m determined to listen once more.

Is. 66:9

Words That Hurt

I was just a week out of the mental hospital for suicidal ideation when you said it. 
“No mother who truly loves her children would ever think of killing herself.”
I’m sure you meant well…maybe you were thinking you were the first one to ever voice such a thought, that perhaps such a radical idea might shake me out of my destructive pathways.
You were wrong.
Instead, your words destroyed my newly-burgeoning sense of well-being. My optimism, already fragile, quavered and began to crumble.
You see, I respect you. I love you. I have nothing but good will towards you. I only wish I could convey to you the depth of how wrong you are.
I love my children with all the power of my fractured heart. I would gladly throw myself in front of a bullet or fight a bear with my bare hands for any one of them. They usually keep my feet firmly grounded to the earth, my reason for being and my all in all.
But sometimes, you see, the thoughts in my head begin to spiral. They’d all be better off without you they whisper. You are only screwing up their lives. Soon, they no longer whisper. They scream and shout, day and night. I begin to believe them. They’ll be stronger without you! They’ll move on and be happier!
The most recent time this began to happen, and I began to contemplate the best way to make it happen, I recognized it as a very dangerous sign. I knew the voices were false, I just didn’t know how to make them stop. So I committed myself to the hospital in the hopes that I could be safe and feel better.
Fortunately, it worked. I do feel better. I am moving forward.
Until your comment.
It took a supreme amount of willpower to prevent myself from going to a very dark place after your words, but I managed to do it. For this I thank a stellar support group and proper medication.
Mental illness is not a choice. No one makes the decision to have 
Major Depressive Disorder, to be Psychotic or Schizophrenic. These are diseases, the same as diabetes or congestive heart failure.
I recognize that I have the disease called Bipolar Disorder. This makes me susceptible to drastic mood swings and irrational thinking.
Maybe you’re one of those who has the luxury of believing such a diagnosis is bunk, that psychology is a farcical science. If you are, then we haven’t much more to say to each other.
For both of our sakes and the sakes of our precious families, let’s strive to understand one another instead. I only want to educate and inform.
I hope you can find it in your heart to listen.

 

Advent

Benevolent universe
infinite light
hold me together
keep me aright
help me to trust thee
teach me to live
walk me in wholeness
and wholly forgive
all of my frailty
my anger and fear
as I also pardon
the ones far and near
who cause me to stumble
and shake me within
open my lips now
to once more begin
to sing of your praises
unknowable worth
spark yet within me
a holy rebirth.

Crazy. Real.

So I was in the mental hospital. Again. For suicidal ideation. Again. I wanted to be done with this life, wanted it so badly I could taste it. A strong beam and a belt is all I needed.

I’m feeling much better now. Something about focused time alone, group therapy, meeting other people with the same struggles and feeling less alone, medication adjustments, and one-on-ones with counselors and doctors, makes all the difference.

I met many fantastic people. People with so many various sorrows. So many diverse difficulties. People heartbreakingly young and heartbreakingly old. I was truly humbled to be in their presence. They taught me a lot about being human, about being real, about being me.

There are no walls in the mental asylum. “What are you in for?” is a normal, even expected, question, and one that is almost always answered with brutal honesty. Compassion overflows. It’s a (hopefully) safe space.

Some people talk to themselves, and to invisible entities. Some are volatile and noisy. Some are withdrawn and quiet. Some become friends. All have something to teach. All are worthy of grace.

How do I carry what I have learned into my daily life?

It is a legitimate question, and perhaps one with numerous answers. For me, it is to focus on each day and its daily issues, and not to dwell on the past and what I cannot change. It means to examine each thought and emotion and ask “Is this true? Is this beneficial?” and if it is not, to toss it away. It means not living in the future either, where nothing is certain and fears have fertile soil in which to grow.

Some of the best people in the world have struggled with mental illness. Mine is bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Yours may be called something else. The most important thing to remember is: you are not alone.

As a Christian, I look to the Bible for some semblance of comfort in my illness. I didn’t think the word had much to say about it until I looked closely at the story of Nebuchadnezzar. Did you know that this pagan king actually wrote an entire chapter in a book of the Old Testament? He ruled Babylon, and went mad towards the end of his life. As the Bible puts it, he ate grass like a cow and grew his fingernails out like claws. In the end, however, he was restored to health by miraculous means, and he praised the Lord as a result (Daniel chapter 4).

Can I do the same? Can I see the Lord’s hand in my healing, even if it comes via pharmaceuticals and therapy and modern medicine?

Yes. I can.

I can bless the Lord’s name in the thick of it, in spite of everything, and with the comforting knowledge that I am in the company of kings. Even when I don’t understand what’s going on, even when my sanity is tenuous, I can speak God’s name, for it is the very sound of my breathing.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

That’s me. I freely admit it.

Is my God big enough for me to throw myself in his lap and pound on his chest in frustration and fury?

Is my God big enough to cover me while I thrash and wallow and gnash my teeth? In the ashes? In my brokenness and anguish?

Can I admit that I am broken? And be okay with that?

Can I open my lips and thank him for all this life offers?

I can. And I will. My very life depends upon it.

 

 

Blue

The sky is blue
the clouds pure white
it is, I think,
a lovely sight
 
the breeze is slight
and quiet sits
upon the landscape
birds do flit
 
there’s beauty all
around and yet
it cannot pierce
my deep regret
 
it cannot calm
darkening mind
it cannot leave
sorrow behind
 
the black abyss
is always there
and joy and grace
are found elsewhere
 
for here am I
my frame is bent
I am all dross
without a vent
 
and if I could
be something new
I’d be a single
drop of dew
 
I’d sit upon
my blade of grass
one single morn
is all I’d last
But I am man
and yet remain
throughout the day
within the pain
 
So I pen rhyme
plan my escape
to quietly
evaporate.

The Worst Thing

What’s the worst thing you can say to someone who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Nothing at all.
Let me clarify: Say you’ve been having an argument. You think it would be best to just go to sleep and leave things to cool off until morning. So you roll over in bed, turn your back to me, and say nothing. 
Or you’re texting, and things have become heated. You leave the last text from me just hanging there because you’re tired of the discussion and you don’t think there’s anything left to say.
Terrible move. 
Nothing is the worst thing you can “say” to me, as someone who suffers from BPD.
You see, when you have BPD, you don’t just “let things go” in a disagreement. You don’t just “get over it” when things go wrong. Seemingly insignificant things can start a spiral of self-loathing and despair that is impossible to overcome without excruciating amounts of effort. While you may think that just saying nothing is better than saying something “wrong”, it is actually the worst thing you can do. 
Without closure, the mind of a person with BPD goes into overdrive. First, there’s the anger. We have all kinds of things we NEED to say, to get them out of our heads so they stop circling endlessly in there. But you’ve made it clear that you’re done, so we can’t. We’re stuck obsessing over them for the next 24 hours or more.
Then there’s the self-recrimination. You hate us. Obviously, you simply can’t stand us anymore. We’re worthless. Not worth the time of day. Let’s face it, we’re sh*t. 
After that comes the bitterness and fatigue. We become so exhausted from the inner monologue that we shut down and spiral into depression. Nobody cares. What’s the use in trying anyway?
I understand that sometimes you walk away because you just can’t handle the drama anymore. Sometimes you have to walk away so that you don’t lose what little temper you have left. But maybe reading this will help you understand the effect it has on me. Walking away, turning away, not returning a text, giving me no closure, is saying, to my mind, I don’t care about you. I don’t care what you have to say. You’re not worth my time anymore. This relationship/friendship is over.
So the next time you’re finding yourself tempted to just let the sun go down on your anger, reconsider. Let us have closure. Please. It means the world to us. 

Untitled

alone

in  a crowd

craving

something

I will never have

pinned

bug-like

to the canvas

where

I scrabble

and scrape

moving

without ever

going

anywhere.

The Normal Suit

Get out of bed
reach for the suit
step in and zip it up

enclose the heart
so no one sees
and all day keep it shut

make smallish talk
throughout the day
pretend that all is good

do not let on
smile prettily
just like a nice girl should

oh Normal Suit!
my Normal Suit!
how you protect me well!

without you here
to have and wear
t’would be a living hell

for time’s a crook
and life’s a bitch
without you all would see

that I’m a fake
and nothing’s real
as it’s supposed to be

for ugly is 
the face of truth
and hideous the teller

and so I’ll stuff
my truest self
into my heart’s deep cellar

oh Normal Suit!
my Normal Suit!
you’re never, ever tearing

and when I die
you can be sure
that you’ll be what I’m wearing.

Risky

She lived
tempest-like
with clouds in her eyes
and rain at her heels
when she passed through
the debris of his heart
littered 
the ground
but 
(he said)
things seemed greener
sky scrubbed clean and blue
air fresh and sweet
and so he 
found himself
caught up in her turbulence
wound round and round
her center
dizzy
from the heady
winds she blew
but
(he thought)
perhaps 
he was not
so unlike her
after all
it takes a special kind of
crazy
to chase a storm.

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