Tuesday, March 6, 2012
I saw this quote image while surfing around on Pinterest.com today and it got me thinking about what it means to be better. Of course this quote is talking about becoming a better person overall and so the context is a bit different...but still...
What is the definition of "better" when it comes to mental illness and depression? Does it mean to be stable? Does it mean some form of normal? Could you even go so far as to say it is "better" than you were before you had your first major attack of depression/mania/schizophrenia?
Yes, it should mean that, like the quote is trying to get across, that you are trying to become a better person, period. Still, I would hope that maybe it will help me to understand how to define "better" in terms of my depression issues. As in: "Am I doing/being/feeling better (mentally) today than I was the other day?" (and) "Am I trying to be better as a person, as a Christian, as a fellow human being?"
For me it means having to ask myself that question every day. It is something that people who haven't had depression/a mental illness (and haven't at least had a loved one who coped with it) have a hard time understanding. Yes, everyone questions their life from time to time, but when you live with major depression many mornings it is a struggle just to get out of bed and face the day.
Sometimes I think that having an understanding of the human condition's dark side is too much for me to cope with. I have to pray in the morning for God to lift that burden from me, so I can get out of bed and get on with my day. I don't hate my life...it just makes me feel tired and let down on my bad days. The rat race sometimes is too much for me and it is then that I have to ask myself the "Am I better?" and "Do I want to be better (mentally and as a person)?" questions.
These are all good and worthy questions for us all to ponder both in relation to mental illness and just life in general.
What does it mean to you to be a better person or to feel that you are doing better in regard to your struggles with mental illness (or the mental illness of a loved one/friend)? Is there anything you'd like to add?
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I recently found out a close relative of mine has a serious mental illness. It is such a struggle for me to deal with someone I care about very much being so ill and acting so different from how I knew her all my life. When someone has a complete breakdown and acts in ways so alien to their normal self (paranoia, etc) it is hard to think of them as they used to be.
It has been so difficult to cope with the fact that she may never be the same. This is mainly because she is my mom and I can't imagine her NOT acting like her "normal" self. Sure, everyone has good and bad days but there are a lot more bad days right now than good ones. How do you cope with someone else's illness while struggling with your own depression?
The strain and struggle to live a normal life while caring for/praying for/helping an ill relative can take its toll. At some point you start to wonder what to say when someone asks how your relative is doing. Some days you get so stressed out that you feel like blurting out, "Oh, my relative is ok...I mean she has XYZ (insert mental illness here), but otherwise she is ok." People mean well, but unless that person has been through a similar rough experience it is hard for them to empathize with you. This is how I feel, anyway... Truthfully I do appreciate the prayers and concern of a loved one or friend, but sometimes I have to just pray about it and rest on my own or I'll get crabby and snippy with others (who usually mean well).
I think that the caregivers and relatives of a mentally (or even physically) ill person should not be SO hard on themselves. The caregivers and relatives need to take time to rest and laugh, to have joy, and to live in the moment...even when some of these moments are very hard ones to live through. Since I know what I am talking about here (having more than one person I am related to that has a mental illness), I will mention that it IS a struggle for me to remember to rest and enjoy life in the midst of these valleys of trouble. It is in these times that I most need to laugh, to smile, and to hug someone so I feel better and brighten the day of those around me (maybe even the life of my ill relative!).
In my family's case it is a hard road and not one I would have chosen for myself or my mom, but I think that in the end it will make better people of both of us and strengthen our whole family. God is taking care of us! My faith is stronger each day as I see some of the amazing ways God is helping our family through this crisis. Even though I have my own dark days of depression to deal with, I can see how God is going to help me get better also as I help my mom.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
"If you hear a voice within you saying, 'you are not a painter,' then by all means paint...and that voice will be silenced." --Vincent Van Gogh.
Recently I have been thinking about Vincent Van Gogh and his struggle with depression and Bi-polar Disorder (which is what many art historians believe he had based on his letters to his brother and some manic episodes he had). It makes me wonder if he had been on medication would he have lived a lot longer and not committed suicide? Or would it not have made a difference? Even if it did make a difference would we even know him as an artist (meaning, would his moods change and affect his art so it was not as interesting or different)? This leads me to think about the role of art in the life of the mentally ill person.
I have had a print of Van Gogh's (perhaps) most famous painting, Starry Night, for several years on my bedroom wall. For most of these years I did not know much about the artist behind that emotion filled night sky painting. No, all I knew was I related to it because I often seek out solitude in nature when I am struggling with my own depression, especially during the really bad times.
After I found out that Van Gogh had painted Starry Night while he was in a mental institution (and only a year before committing suicide), I decided it was time to learn more about him at as artist and a person who coped with mental illness. What I discovered is that he loved to paint natural settings and use vibrant colors, and that many paintings guide the eye to the heavens (at least those like Starry Night do this). My belief is that he was looking for God while he was painting, similar to me on my nature walks, and that it is reflected in many of his works (the heavens) for that reason. Also, I learned that although Van Gogh was a Christian he later seemed to slip in his faith before committing suicide.
It is my hope that even in the midst of his mental turmoil he asked for God to forgive him for taking his own life. I will not know if Van Gogh is in heaven or not until I am with Jesus (on that day when all Christians meet each other in heaven), but he has made me reflect a lot on the role of art in lives of those who suffer from mental illness and how vital it truly is! Art, whether it is merely looking at a painting or painting something yourself, listening to music or playing an instrument, or even just reading a really inspiring Bible verse in Psalms helps to remind you, as a mentally ill or depressed person (or anyone for that matter) that there is hope and that God is always there if you are looking for Him.
A friend of my family recently posted about his wife's struggle with mental illness and how it was God who helped them through it. It is a great blog and worth your time to read, check it out below:
(Copy & paste if the link doesn't work above)
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Lately I have been experiencing the daily toll of living with chronic depression, also known as Dysthymia. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine this is the definition:
"Dysthymia is a chronic type of depression in which a person's moods are regularly low. However, symptoms are not as severe as with major depression." It tends to get worse in the winter, especially when I was living up North, as I am originally from the North-Eastern tip of California (it is a lot colder and more like Oregon than the rest of California).
Several years ago I was on Prozac for awhile after sinking into a deeper depression when I was in a bad relationship (before meeting my husband for those of you who know me personally). It was not that my boyfriend drove me to take Prozac, but that he tore deeper into my already wounded mind and caused me to go through deeper self-esteem problems. A few months went by and, along with talking to my doctor, I decided to stop taking Prozac. It had nothing to do with physical side effects or the medicine not working, but instead I decided that I should stop taking it because I felt nothing. Even though I was no longer upset or very sad over my bad break up (which happened about the time I started taking Prozac, ironically) , I realized I never felt very happy ever either. For me this was a problem because what is the point of taking medicine if you are just going to be apathetic for the rest of your life?
Now, I do realize that for those with a major mental disorder being a bit apathetic and neutral is WAY better than feeling out of control. I have witnessed this over and over again in friends, relatives, and acquaintances who stop taking their medicine when, in reality, they really need it to even feel normal. For those who suffer a major disorder, you may HAVE to stay on meds but that does not mean you should not consider therapy or counseling also in addition to the medicine. It is important to do what works best for you and what your doctor/therapist recommends for you personally.
Still, it is also important to stop and smell the roses, play a game with friends, and laugh at a good joke. Do not let the sorrow and troubles of today ruin all your tomorrows with friends and loved ones. Also remember, as I also have to remind myself daily you are not your illness, you are YOU! I often, especially on my bad days, have to meditate on a good quote or Scripture to get me out of the funk I am in. My favorite verse reflects the attitude of picking myself up again (with God's help!): "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" --Philippians 4:13 (New King James Version).
When you are feeling down I hope you find a good quote, good joke, Scripture, or song to bring your mood up again. We all have only one life to live so each of us needs to focus on something outside of us to bring the light back into our dark places of depression and mental illness.
May your mind find itself in a more "sunny" place today!
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
I recently have noticed that a lot of the church does not seem to fully understand how to deal with people that suffer from a mental illness. Of course, mental illness is something that is hard for many people to understand, but what I mean is that a lot of believers don't know how to relate to a mentally ill person other than by saying, "I'll pray for you." Other believers seem to think the mentally ill have brought on their illness through sin or that the person in question is possessed by demons.
Still, I do not discount that there could be people who have "brought the illness on themself" or who have possibly been possessed by demons. So what should be done to help our brothers and sisters in the Lord who have mental illnesses? Well, I have come to believe that the use of medication and therapy is vastly underrated in the church and may even be looked down upon in some denominations because taking medicine means you are not really "trusting God to heal you".
YES, God can heal a person of mental illness, BUT He can also use medicine or therapy (hopefully Christian counseling too!) to heal the person or to help them get better over time. Why aren't there more people in the church reaching out to mentally ill brothers and sisters in Christ who are hurting and possibly avoiding church because everyone there belittles them to "have more faith and be healed"?!? Instead shouldn't we, as Christians, leave room for belief that MAYBE God has a different plan for them to be healed or that is be their "thorn in the side" as the Apostle Paul speaks of in regard to his personal imparement?
I speak as someone who suffers from chronic depression, among other things, and have always found the church lacking in this area of counseling.
Maybe I should try to counsel others I meet and live out what I am saying? I have considered going to school to get training for counseling...maybe I will.
I am the face of someone who lives DAILY with depression and I choose to not take meds, but that does not mean I look down on anyone who does need them.