Things I’m Afraid to Tell You

I was invited to write this post by a group of bloggers who are participating in a series of posts called “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You”. The TIATTY movement was inspired by a post from Jess Constable of Make … Continue reading

She Said It: Kathryn Greene McCreight on PPD, Bipolar Disorder & Faith

image courtesy of goodreads.com

My friend Audrey lent me this book a couple of months ago and I’m just starting to read it this week. The second paragraph of the first chapter made me catch my breath as I read words that seemed to explain what parts of my experience with PPD was like.  As I continued to read the following paragraphs and discovered that the author is not just a mother, but a priest, and also bipolar, my eyes stung with heavy tears and I had to pause every now and then to process the emotions I was feeling.

When I was going through my experience with PPD I felt so alone, because it seemed no one around me had experienced it, or if they had, they didn’t speak up about it. I felt confused and misunderstood, mostly because I couldn’t even articulate what was going on with me, and when I tried, my words left the hearer with the impression that I either just needed to pray more, take more time, or “fix” my circumstances…as a Christian I was even told that I was experiencing the depression and turmoil because I had chosen to have a child out of wedlock…the hell and pain I was reeling from were just the byproducts of my “sin” and I needed to just endure it.

When I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder last July, I felt my faith shaken and my first question to God was, “Can I be a Christian and be bipolar?” How was I supposed to know what was real, how was I supposed to hold on to God in my lowest and darkest moments when all I wanted to do sometimes was just die? My next question was, “Are there other Christians who are bipolar? Where are they? Why don’t they talk about their experiences?”

I’ve ranted on Facebook and Twitter about how there’s a lack of open dialogue, awareness, education, and services in the Christian community for those living with severe or chronic mental illnesses. There are even far less in the African-American Christian community….I’ve yet to hear of mental illness addressed in a sermon or anyone in our culture openly discuss this subject…..

So when I started to read this book, the first few pages seemed to scream what my experience and thoughts motherhood and these illnesses have been like. Her words shook me, so much so that I had to put the book down a few times because my hands and arms couldn’t stop shaking, my body trembling from the force of the tears and emotions welling up inside of me.

So for today’s post, I thought I’d just share an excerpt, share the paragraphs I read yesterday that spoke so soundly to me and I found myself in. If you know of someone who is struggling with their mental illness, especially as a mother or even a Christian, please share this post with them as well. I hope it helps you and them the way it has already started to help me.

When I became a mother for the second time however, the hem of my mental health began to fray. Motherhood by nature challenges the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical endurance of any woman. It is a highly over-romanticized and underestimated pressure cooker, matched in potential not only for the creation of a new family but also for the destruction of both mother and child. Think-with horror-the Susan Smiths and Andrea Yateses of the world. ……of course not all postpartum suffers are this detached from reality.

…..Motherhood, I believe, was only the precipitant for an internal agony that I had been holding back for years. Maybe God had postponed my storm at sea until I could be buyoued by the hopefulness and joy that I derived from my children and husband.The experience as a whole and the experiences that constituted the eventual illness were at least bewildering and at most terrifying. The blue sky which normally fills my heart, stung my soul. Beautiful things like oriental rugs and good food like bean soup absolutely exhausted me. Noise was amplified in my ears, and I fled sound and conversation in search of silence. Small tasks became existential problems: how and why to fold the laundry, empty the diswasher, do grocery shopping. My memory failed me. I was unable to read or write (except for sermons, by the Holy Spirit’s providence, I believe.) And it went downhill from there. A back and forth in and out of darkness lasted for years. ……

….I have a chronic disease, a brain disorder that used to be called manic depression and is now, less offensively, called bipolar disorder. However one tries to soften the blow of the diagnosis, the fact remains that bipolar disorder is a subset of the larger category unhappily called “major mental illness.’ By the latter of my thirties, I had sought help from several psychiatrists, social workers, and mental health professionals, one a Christian, but mostly non-Christians. I had been in active therapy with a succession of therapists over several years and had been introduced to many psychiatric medications, most of which bought quite unpleasant side effects and only a few of which relieved my symptoms to some degree. Those medications that have in fact been helpful, I must say despite my own disinclination toward drugs, have been a strand in the cord that God has woven for me as the lifeline cast out in my free fall.  The medications have helped me rebuild some of “myself,” so that I can continue to be the kind of mother, priest, and writer that I believe God wants me to be. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) The three cords to my rope were the religious (worship and prayer), the psychological, (psychotherapy) and the medical (medication, ECT, and hospitalization).

Yet while therapists and counselors, psychiatrists and medications abound, I found no one to help me make sense of my pain with regard to my life before the triune God. I write this book, then by way of an offering, as what I wish someone had written to help me make sense of the pain and apparent incongruity of that agony with the Christian life. Those Christians who have not faced the ravages of mental illness should not be quick with advice to those who do suffer. “Pray harder,” “Let Jesus in,” even “Cast your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), which of course are all valid pieces of advice in and of themselves, may only make the depressive person hurt more.

This is because depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being “down.” It is being cast the very end of your tether and, quite frankly being dropped. Mania is more than speeding mentally, more than euphoria, more than creative genius at work. The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it. While God certainly can pick up the pieces and put them together in a new way, this can happen only if the depressed brain makes it through to see again life among the living.

This is an excerpt from “Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness,” by Kathryn Greene-McCreight. You can read her brief bio on her church’s website here

Beautifully Broken: A Much Needed Reminder

May God help me…I’ve done a vlog y’all. ugh….

Lyrics to “Never Let Go”

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back
I know you are near

And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

(Chorus:)
Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

And I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
A glorious light beyond all compare
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
We’ll live to know You here on the earth

(Chorus)

Yes, I can see a light that is coming for the heart that holds on
And there will be an end to these troubles
But until that day comes
Still I will praise You, still I will praise You

Manic Mondays (On Tuesdays): Hypersexuality, Faith, & Womanhood pt. 1

Confession: This is the probably the hardest series of posts I’ve ever written here on ‘Confessions, because it deals with a personal and often ‘taboo’ subject in Christian culture. But I believe in the power of transparency, and I realize that this is part of owning my story and having honest dialogue with others, so that’s why I’m writing about this particular subject. Not sure how many parts there will be  this series, but I hope that this proves to be a healthy exploration for myself and whoever finds themselves in reading these posts.

Bipolar Disorder: When Sexuality Is in Overdrive – Bipolar Disorder Center – Everyday Health.

I read this article today while taking a break from doing my project on the book of Philemon. I’m in the middle of finals week and the end of the semester, (hence my absence from the blogging world) but I knew after reading this, I had to stop and write about it…

…or rather about my experience with hypersexuality as a woman trying to manage BP.  About being a Christian who struggles severely with this symptom of BP and what how I believe it impacts my walk with God…

About a year ago, I started noticing that I was having very sexual dreams, which was out of the norm for me. While sex isn’t something I dream about normally, that’s not what bothered me about the dreams. What bothered me was that I was constantly dreaming about having sex with women, which was definitely something I had NEVER done before. I also started noticing that I would have days (possibly a couple of weeks…or a month even) where all I would think about is having sex.

Now, let me say this. (Again, I’m being transparent here, so understand my disclosure serves a purpose) I lost my virginity at 16 and didn’t have sex again until I was 20-when I met my next boyfriend. While I enjoy sex, I’m not the type to have “friends with benefits,” one night stands, or even casual sex with strangers or people I don’t know very well. I tried having a casual sex relationship once and I hated it. (and it didn’t last very long). The only other person I “casually” had sex with was my ex…but I had known him for over a year. We were friends….and then we were dating…and the sex? It just happened. In other words, if I’m sharing my cookie jar with you, it’s because I know you, I trust you, and we’re in a monogamous relationship…. and even then, depending on how my spiritual health is, sex might not even happen under those circumstances.Sex and being intimate with someone I care about is awesome, but I’ve never been the type who felt like I had to have it regularly if I was single. I had more of a “take it or leave it” attitude concerning sex…if I was taking it, I thoroughly enjoyed it with my significant other…if I was single and leaving it, I was perfectly okay with that.

So while I enjoy it and I don’t mind exploring my sexuality, I’ve never been a slave to it…or felt like I was at the mercy of my desires….until I started having dreams about trysts with women (and liking it) and found myself getting into these moods where it’s all I seemed to think and fantasize about.

These moods would always catch me off guard because after having Alex and starting Zoloft, I had noticed that my sex drive or desire for it had dropped significantly, which is pretty normal after pushing a bowling ball-sized object out of your vagina and starting an anti-depressant. I would have days or even a couple of months where I wouldn’t even think about it, or it didn’t feel like a need that just had to be satisfied…and then I would find myself  waking up with my hands down my pajamas….dreaming about random sexual encounters with total strangers….and wanting to jump on top of my ex every time I thought of or saw him.

If you’re reading this and you’re a woman, I’m sure you know how um…aroused you can get as you draw closer to your period, right?  (yep, I went there and said the p-word-go ahead, you can squirm a little more, it’s ok) Well imagine those feelings multiplied by, oh I don’t know, maybe a thousand or so and you’ll get a picture of how I would feel in these moods. They would totally consume me, I felt like some kind of pervert or sex addict. It was so bad sometimes that even my ex would look at me and be like, “uh…yea…NO!” and would ask if I was okay. You know it’s bad when you’re so overwhelmed with needing to have sex that it decreases your partner’s desire for it.  Yea….ouch.

One of the frustrating things about feeling so sexual was that no matter how much I had, it never satisfied the need, it only intensified it. I even took to pleasing myself which while I’ve known other women who do it and it’s not  a big deal, it was for me because it was something I had never done. These feelings weren’t just about trying to explore my sexuality or what I “liked.” It was literally like a wildfire just burning out of control. I tried everything to uh…satisfy it, squash it, ignore it. It literally became a highly agitating state to be in, and I didn’t really understand what was going on….

The even more frustrating part about my hypersexual feelings was the fact that because I’m an unmarried Christian, I felt endless amounts of guilt about what I was experiencing. And the shame. Oh the shame that would consume me and still does at times was all encompassing. I felt…dirty. Full of lust. A lustful, sinful woman who just couldn’t control herself. I didn’t know how to talk to anyone about it, let alone God. I felt guilty for wanting sex as much as I did, guilty for having it as much as I was, guilty for pleasuring myself (masturbation is a no no in Christian culture, apparently), guilty for just any and everything about sex. It was awful and the guilt and shame I felt only fueled my depressive moods, tying me down in the gravity wells these moods placed me in.

During these states my mind would swirl with racing thoughts: Was I just consumed with lust? What was wrong with me? Was God disgusted with me? Angry with me? Did He understand? I would stand at the altar at the end of service, begging God to help me stop compromising, asking for forgiveness and desiring to be and do better. Then a few days would pass or maybe a week or two and I’d find myself right back in the same state: hot, bothered, and full of this urge I lacked the ability to control…

Since my diagnosis in July, I’ve learned so much about BP and its symptoms I feel less guilt and shame because I know (for the most part) what’s causing it. Learning that it’s a symptom of my disorder and not necessarily a reflection of my character has brought me to a place of acceptance about it. I still wrestle with what to do about these feelings when they arrive and become overwhelmingly intense, but I don’t beat myself up over having them anymore…

My questions to God these days are more about management and how to maintain celibacy until marriage. I’m rather frank with Him about it and I believe He’s far more understanding about it than I originally gave Him credit for.

Hear me: I’m not trying to justify my behavior, so Christians don’t crucify me. I’m also not trying to use this symptom of my disorder as an excuse to just be all “A’Driane Gone Wild.” But I am trying to manage, understand and walk this issue out in a way that is spiritually healthy and doesn’t “taint” my relationship with God.

I’m also trying to be more open and honest about this issue, which is something I don’t think enough of us Christians do…

I’ll talk about this and more about my faith, hypersexuality and how they impact me next week. Until then….any thoughts? Feel free to share…