The Long and Winding Road to Recovery

In the interest of doing my part to promote Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I’d take some time to give a candid snapshot into what “recovery” looks like in my household. My last post touched on it a little bit, but here is a little more detail.

First of all, let’s look at the word “recovery”. It means “a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.” It also means “the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.”

When it comes to “mental illness” and “recovery”, I think both of those definitions are spot on. But the one word that really jumps out at me is the word “process”. In looking at that word, it means “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.”

So in essence, when it comes to recovery from mental illness, it can be defined as a series of (many) actions and/or steps in order to return to a normal state of mind.

The road is long, and can be full of all kinds of obstacles and hills and valleys and bumps and roadblocks and ups and downs.  And it seems that the longer we’ve been on this road, it doesn’t get any easier necessarily, although I think that as time passes and we gain more experience, we’re better equipped to handle it. At times the journey isn’t too bad, and there are times of idyll and pleasantness. But other times, it can be pretty darn treacherous and the road can feel like an endless trek through a barren wilderness.

For my husband, this year will mark 30 years since he was first hospitalized with bipolar symptoms at the age of 16. We will also reach our 18th wedding anniversary. We’ve both been on this road for a while, so we’ve definitely gained experience for the journey.

I think the hardest years for both of us reached a crescendo in 2011. That is when Scott left. There were a number of things over the course of several years that led up to his leaving, but the bottom line is that it came down to a combination of not being properly medicated (as opposed to being UNmedicated, there is a difference), and the cumulative effects of some unresolved past traumas. So from August 2011 until November 2015, Scott was essentially gone from our lives. During those years, there were times when I did not know where he was. I was able to occasionally follow his trail from a distance, but most of the time his trail was cold. We had very little to no contact, and he spent a large amount of that time off his medication and in a prolonged state of ill mental health.

During that time, I was essentially a single parent, raising a young child. But, I was not “single”. My marriage was in a weird limbo. I was not single, I was not divorced, not really legally separated either. My husband was not dead, he wasn’t deployed, he wasn’t away on some job, he didn’t leave me for some other woman, and honestly there was not any animosity or ill will between us, although there was some distortion of perceptions due to his condition...he simply was not in his right mind. Since he left of his own free will, legally he wasn’t missing. So it was a really strange situation to be in. He just wasn’t there, and I didn’t know how to explain why. One day, he was just gone.

During that time, I ended up relocating from one state to another. I went back to school and managed to get a Master’s Degree. I raised my daughter and lived my life. I had support, so I wasn’t completely in a vacuum, nor was I completely alone. But there were times when I felt very isolated and in a state of incompleteness. There were times when life felt very dark and confusing, and my future uncertain. I remained hopeful and prayerful for restoration, but I had no idea what that would look like, or what it would entail, or when it would happen. My faith led me to believe that we would indeed be reunited as a family one day, but my reality suggested otherwise. So in essence, I lived in a constant tension of sorts, and yet I still had to function in this. Needless to say, living in that state was stressful in many ways.

For Scott, his journey was much more treacherous. He ended up in another state…and as if he didn’t already have enough trauma to deal with from the past, during his absence he went through even more trauma. His journey is his story to tell, (and it's quite a story!) but it involved living in a constant state of uncertainty, mental instability, and pretty much an inability to function.

After all that, one day in November 2015, we finally reconnected. When we reconnected, he had already spent more than 2 months in a hospital where he finally got stable, so by the time we made contact again, he was in a rehab facility getting continued care. At first, our reunion was long distance since he was out of state. But through a series of events, in March 2016, he finally returned home.

Home at last!!!

His journey led him, at long last, to the RIGHT medication, one that was working really well for him.

But also, while his return marked the end of one journey, it was the beginning of another.

Since the day he came home on March 20, 2016, it has been a whole new season for us and for our family. Not a bad one, mind you. In fact, it has been very, very good. Beautiful in fact. But a lot of hard work, and a trade-off from one kind of stress to another.

Once we got him plugged in to health care here, between March and October 2016, the medication that Scott was placed on in the other state in order to get him stable, ended up being adjusted no less than five times. As it turns out, gaining stability is not the same thing as long term management, so once the crisis is past and the symptoms are under control, there is still a lot of work to do. In the midst of that, he started to go to therapy sessions in order to process some of the traumas he endured in his absence, and to get acclimated with being healthy again, and being back among the land of the living, so to speak. We also still had residual symptoms to deal with. In the midst of all THAT, we had to learn to be a family again. Jasmyne and I had gotten used to being on our own, and even as wonderful as it was to have Daddy and husband home again, it was a new dynamic that we had to get used to.

Finally, in October 2016, we got the dosage just right! In fact, I think it took from March to October to finally find a groove all the way around, just being settled into the whole family thing again, and finding a new normal. Scott had a lot to process, but it wasn’t just HIM. I had a lot of issues to deal with too. Individually, as a couple, and as a family in our various configurations, there were a lot of adjustments. But we finally found a groove and began to thrive.

Fast forward to this year. Scott started to complain about certain side effects from the medication…a restlessness in the form of involuntary movements that would not go away. Finally, his psychiatric nurse practitioner made the decision that this medication…that had been working SO well to alleviate bipolar symptoms…needed to be changed, because the physical side effects were reaching a point of potentially being harmful long term.

So here we were, finally on a SMOOTH stretch of the recovery highway, and then BAM. The road has suddenly turned bumpy again.

It’s one thing to have to switch medications that aren’t working. That’s a welcome change. But to have to change medications that are actually working well? That can be painful and downright discouraging.

So in March 2017, Scott switched medications. And now, in some ways, we have had to start all over again. We have had to start a whole new journey of monitoring medication and making adjustments, watching for changes and navigating symptoms. While in some ways it feels like a setback, it could potentially be even better for Scott in the long term as this new drug may ultimately end up being a better fit. If not, then there are many more options to try.

BUT…the thing is, we won’t know for a while, as it can take a LONG time to sort out medications to find the right dosage and combination, and for it to work…which we had JUST done for the past year.

Ugh. I’m actually worn out just writing all that! And that’s not even scratching the surface of all we’ve endured. Whew!

But such is the long and winding road of recovery. All of this, just so my husband can be able to “return to a normal state of mind, health, or strength.”

It is definitely not for the faint of heart!!!

But this is what fighting for mental health looks like. This is what mental health treatment looks like. There is no quick fix, no magic pill, no prayer with just the right amount of Scripture and theology…it is just walking one day at a time, one foot in front of the other, trusting the Lord to lead the way, moment by moment. It takes a massive amount of time, energy, determination, perseverance and patience. This is one of the main reasons there is no way my husband can work right now or have any other major responsibilities except to focus on getting well.

For me as a caregiver, it requires every bit as much of me as it does of Scott, the person with the illness. In the midst of all this, I have my own mental health to consider, as I have my own set of issues to deal with, and my own recovery from my own kind of trauma from all of this. We also have a daughter who is at a critical age (13) with whom I make it a huge effort to keep the lines of communication open. She asks questions, we answer. We inform, we try to be as honest as is age appropriate. In the midst of all this, it is important for her world to be as secure as possible. I work only part time hours and freelance, because I need the lighter, flexible schedule in order to juggle his needs (he doesn't drive) as well as my daughter's. Financially, it can be challenging, but thankfully the Lord provides and this past year, we have been able to meet all our needs with very little.

Mental illness is a real issue, and I think it has reached almost epidemic status in this country, if it’s not there already. It comes in many different forms, it affects all ages, all races, all economic levels, all cultures. People deal with it in many different ways…most of which are not healthy, unfortunately. But even amongst those who are doing all the “right” things, there are still no guarantees to an easy journey.

As I said earlier, I’ve been on this road with my husband for a long time. And I am always learning new things, and gaining new knowledge and information. We’re extremely blessed in that, as tough as things have been for us, it could have always been worse. We’ve had tons of Divine Intervention, where the hand of the Lord has been so clearly upon us, leading and guiding our steps. We’re blessed in that, in the midst of all of this, we actually have a good marriage, (believe it or not!) and we laid a good foundation in the Lord early on. We love each other, and love is a powerful motivator. Even in the worst of it all, at Scott’s lowest points, he has been protected from so much. There is absolutely NO way we could walk this path without Jesus Himself at our side. No way at all. As hard as it has been WITH the Lord, I can’t imagine how hard it would be without Him.

There’s more, so much more…and I can’t share it all in one blog post, so I guess I’ll have to come back for more. The main takeaway from all of this is that there IS hope. There is an anchor in the midst of the storms of this illness. And as I look ahead, and see that we still have a good stretch of road ahead of us, my determination propels me forward. I’m determined…and REALLY curious…to find out where this road will lead! I feel like, if we just keep moving forward, plugging away, we won’t be disappointed in our ultimate destination. That hope keeps me going!!! I truly believe our best days are ahead of us!!

 

And...He's Home!!!!!

Photo credit: Jasmyne Simpkins

Photo credit: Jasmyne Simpkins

At long last, after nearly 5 years of praying, waiting, seeking, hoping…my husband is finally home!! To think, when I started this blog, I had no idea where he was. He had gotten lost in the pit of a bipolar fog so deep, it truly is a miracle that he got out of it. I can only attribute it to Jesus. I know that may sound like a cliché, a “pat answer”, but it is the absolute truth. If you only knew all of what has happened behind the scenes, you would know what I’m saying here!

It has been quite an adjustment!!! Thankfully, it has been a peaceful transition for all of us…him, me, and our 12 year old daughter. It has been a time of great joy, gratitude, and a profound presence of peace and providence. He is where he belongs, and all is right with the world.  We have enjoyed many gloriously mundane moments that we definitely do not take for granted!

A few highlights:

·        He has been able to attend my symphony concerts

·        We have enjoyed precious moments as a family, like meals together at home, a few outings for simple things like Starbucks and walks along the waterfront, and family movie night.

·        He got to see his daughter’s final 6th grade band concert of the year. She played percussion, just like her dad before her! For perspective: when he left, she had just started 2nd grade.

·        Through amazing, miraculous provision, he has been able to receive healthcare and medication, as well as time and space to recover from his ordeals.

·        Doors are opening and provisions has been made for him to use his gifts for music and recording

·        On the marriage front, we’ve had some deep talks, processing these past years and putting things in perspective. We have been working on understanding our separate journeys, which has been just the beginning of healing.

In a nod to the fact that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I wanted to make mention of something my husband said about his current state of mental health, that shows the sobering reality of how difficult it can be to receive proper treatment for mental illness:

My husband’s journey ultimately led him into a situation to where he was able to, at long last, receive the right kind of treatment. It was a painful process, but it was also the hand of God. He was able to spend a significant amount of time in treatment. As a result, he ended up with a combination of medications that he had never received, that have worked incredibly well for him. Ironically, the worst years of his life led to the best care he has ever received. In his words, he feels better mentally than he has ever felt in his life. He reports that he has more mental clarity than ever, and the side effects of the meds are minimal. These meds have been on the market for years, so they aren’t even the newer medications. Go figure!

Now remember, my husband was diagnosed Bipolar I when he was 16 years old. He is now one month shy of his 45th birthday. In the course of nearly 30 years, he has been through several doctors, psychiatrists, hospitalizations, and medications. And this is, by his own admission, the FIRST time in his life that he has felt normal. During those talks that I mentioned before, we’ve looked back over years of what could very well have been MISmanagement of his illness, and wrong meds. It has not always been due to noncompliance,  although that has also been a factor in some instances. But even times of noncompliance could be attributed to simply not being able to take the TIME needed to find the right combination of medication, medical supervision, and services, which could have helped circumvent times of illness or noncompliance. Time is money, and medications are expensive. Sometimes it’s so hard to know how well they are working. It’s like a game of Russian Roulette to find what works.

I say that because I want people to understand just how difficult it can be to get proper mental health care. It’s not just the complications of the illness itself…which can be difficult to diagnose…or the symptoms of the illness, that can make treatment difficult. It is also the System that makes it hard to get adequate care, even for those who are proactive in their care. It’s not just the mental health system…it’s the criminal justice system that can confuse criminality with illness. It’s families who lack resources to understand what they’re dealing with. It’s churches and other community resources who lack understanding of how to support families and patients who are dealing with severe mental health issues. It's stigma and shame. And we’re only talking about Bipolar I, which is but one of many, many other mental health conditions that can be just as debilitating.

In short, we have a crisis on our hands in this nation when it comes to mental health.

I have no answers as to how we solve this crisis. I can only testify of what God has done in our situation, and my own perspectives of my experiences.

Here’s what I can say for sure:

I don’t believe all of the answers can be found in this world. The System is broken, because our world is broken, because people are broken. You don’t even have to be a believer to see that. Anyone can look at the state of humanity and see that we as a species have some serious issues! I’m grateful for when the system works. After all, my husband was able to get meds and treatment through the same system that failed him at times.

But what about when the system doesn’t work? Where do you turn for help?

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ultimately, my hope, and help, could not be in the right meds, the right doctor, the right treatment, the right diagnosis. My hope is in God. My help, and my husband’s help, came from Him. I clung to the words of Psalm 121 for dear life:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

HE is the One who ultimately led my husband to the right meds, the right doctor, the right treatment. It was not a direct shot…sometimes the journey was dark, difficult, confusing, and just plain hard. It twisted and turned, went up and down hill, and was filled with a few moments of joy and a whole lot of sorrow. It required a great deal of perseverance,  patience, and prayer. It cost me. But sometimes it’s not always about getting to the destination…the journey can be every bit as much a part of the process. But oh, how it can be so, so hard to trust God in the midst of it all.

When it seems your world is falling apart, it’s hard to hear someone say “just trust God.” It’s not that simple.

Or is it?

I think that out of all of the various experiences I’ve had in my lifetime, going through the things I have been through with my husband has been the greatest test of faith for me. When your faith is sorely tested, you can come out one of two ways: with a stronger faith, or no faith at all. A third option might be a redirected faith, when you find that the things you used to put your faith in, no longer work, or maybe were never solid to begin with.

For me, I think I went through all 3 of those phases at one time or another. Some days, I had no faith, and I wanted to give up. Other days, I felt stronger than ever. Still other days, I discovered that things…or people…that I had put my faith in had let me down, and I had to regroup.

In the end, I chose to “just trust God.” It was not easy, but I believe that it has been worth it. I love Galatians 6:9, that says “be not weary in well doing, but in DUE SEASON, you SHALL reap if you faint not.”

At long last, my family is in a season of reaping. I pray for many more days of “beauty for ashes” and the joy that comes after many nights of weeping.

I hope you continue to follow our journey! I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see where it leads!

One Year Later...and Big News!

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since my first blog post! I certainly had more plans for this blog than what has actually come to fruition thus far. But, “life happens” as they say. I simply found myself too consumed with my real life to focus on my internet life.

But I thought that this would be a great time for a new blog post, not just to celebrate its anniversary, but to also share some Big News. Keep reading for more!

But first, some backstory...

The premise of Mining for Diamonds was to share glimpses of my journey of navigating through the many facets of my life, and seeing God’s faithfulness as He formed treasures in darkness. I’ve been open about the fact that one of the most challenging areas for me has been my marriage…although not in the ways one might think. I married a man diagnosed with a serious mental illness…and in recent years, his illness has taken him away from me and our daughter. As a result, I’ve been “solo” parenting, and just trying to live life as best I could in the face of a great deal of instability and unknowns. I couldn’t do it without my faith and an amazing “tribe” of family and friends. Still, I have had to face challenges and deal with stresses that are unique. Mental illness is such a loaded topic these days, and even in spite of the recent increase in noble efforts to reduce stigma, educate and inform, it is still a complicated subject.

As an aside, I want to mention one of the recent “noble efforts” I observed…in an episode of the new show “Chicago Med”, the hospital psychiatrist schooled one of the ER doctors about patient… a respected academic professor with a PhD…who exhibited bizarre behaviors. The dialog went something like this:

Hospital psychiatrist: “Dr. [character’s name] has bipolar disorder.”

ER doc: “Oh, so it’s more than a medical issue.”

Hospital psychiatrist: “With all due respect, Doctor, it is entirely a medical issue.”

BAM!

Anyway, I found it challenging at times to explain to people why my husband left, or where he was. Not that I owe anyone an explanation, but people do assume a lot of things…divorce is the first thing that comes to mind. But no, I am not divorced. I’m not even sure “separated” would’ve been entirely accurate, even though he was gone. I mean, I could just say “well, he is diagnosed as bipolar, got sick, and I have no idea where he is but I am hoping and praying that one day he comes back.” If I was asked, I would answer exactly that in some form, because it’s the truth. But not quite enough. So, I decided to blog about it, to hopefully give people insights on not only how it is to navigate life when serious mental illness is involved, but to also show them that in the midst of it, I was at least living a LIFE. I wanted to share how God has been faithful in the midst of it all. Plus, I would have something to refer people to… “Hey, just read my blog if you want to know more”…rather than get into some long-winded discourse.

Blogging can be such an amazing medium to share ideas, stories, and insights…I love to write and connect with people, so I thought “I’ll start a blog and use it as a platform!” As if people really care what little old me has to say about anything! But then…why not? I could write with a reasonable amount of authority about all kinds of issues…race, faith, mental health, music…so many voices are clamoring for attention, why not throw mine in the mix.

But I found myself too busy living life to sit down in front of the computer and write about it.

My life has been busy for a very good reason.

Over the course of the past several months, a series of extraordinary miracles have taken place in our lives, and God has answered countless prayers!!!

Before I announce the Big News, I just want to say that, in spite of our challenges, I have never, ever given up on my husband. I’m not going to be all noble and say that I never considered it. However, I can say that I always believed deep down that he would triumph over his challenges and go on to do great and mighty things…and I was determined that when that day came, I would be there for him. Yes he left. I didn’t know where he was, and had zero contact with him (not for days, months, or weeks, but for YEARS). I did have some idea of his whereabouts, based on public records…but for various reasons I did not pursue him. However, my daughter and I both, along with a wonderful team of loving friends and family, continued to pray and believe for my husband’s mental health and healing, as well as the reconciliation and restoration of our family. I felt that, with the right help, under the right circumstances, my husband could, and would, overcome. I knew that, in his RIGHT mind, he never would have left his wife and child. I believed he was worth fighting for on my knees.

I am pleased to report that, through a series of amazing circumstances, (not all pleasant but definitely miraculous!) my husband was indeed able to get the care and treatment that it has been nearly impossible for him to get for years and years and YEARS. Anyone who has had to navigate the horrific, bloody minefield that is both mental illness and mental health care in this country knows what I’m talking about. That is why this is nothing short of a miracle.

So, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to announce that…

MY HUSBAND IS COMING HOME!!!!!!!

Ok, so now I really have a reason to endeavor to blog regularly, because this is huge news! It’s a lot take in and adjust to, but I cannot even begin to tell you just how ecstatic and awestruck that I am!!!! It is not exactly sudden, but has been in the works behind the scenes for a while (I hinted at it in my last post, and my wedding anniversary post in September). Also, it is happening under careful supervision, counsel, with tons of support and at least a rough outline of a plan, so that we never find ourselves in this position ever again. (One of the things I cannot stress enough is the need for a strong support team!!!) So as thrilled as I am, I am also sobered by the reality of the long road ahead.

It’s not the end of a journey, but the beginning of a WHOLE NEW ONE. It’s not like we’re going to be able to pick up where we left off. We literally have to start over. It will involve a great deal of time, effort, and energy to heal, recover, and create a new normal for us. To put things in perspective, when my husband left, our daughter was 7. Now she is 12. That’s a lot of catching up to do! It is exciting, scary, wonderful and terrifying, at the same time. It’s many, many things.

The details of my husband’s journey I will leave for him to share one day when he’s ready. Right now, it’s not the most important thing. The important thing is that for him, that journey is over and it’s time for him to return home to his family. We are on track for this to take place within the next month. I hope you will stay tuned, and follow along our journey of reconciliation, recovery, and what I pray will eventually lead to a rebirth. Prayers would also be most welcome as well!

I’ll leave you a quote from my very first blog post, something I will definitely refer back to many times throughout the days ahead:

 Even though there is something of a question mark that remains over him and our marriage, the main point I want to get across in this blog is this: in the midst of it all, God is faithful. He has walked me through some deep valleys in my marriage, and I am confident that He will walk my little family all the way through to His glorious Light. My husband’s story is not over, and neither, I believe, is our marriage.

The adventure continues...!

Beautiful Brokenness

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Well, so much for trying to be consistent with posting! I’m sorry…once again, life and time have gotten away from me. But here I am!

Lately I’ve been pondering a lot on brokenness. We often view brokenness as something bad, undesirable, or less valuable. However, God, in His amazing ability to take a paradox and turn it into a profound truth, receives brokenness as something valuable and takes it, and makes us even more valuable. He makes us whole, with a twist. Isn’t that amazing?

There are a number of verses in the Bible that reference brokenness. Here are a few that speak deeply to me:

 Psalms 34:18

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

 Psalms 51:16-17

For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

 Psalms 147:3

He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds.

 I’ve been thinking about brokenness as it relates to my current situation. Right now, me and my daughter live in a state of brokenness. My husband is broken, therefore marriage and family is broken...and has been for some time. We’ve gotten used to it, my daughter and me. I think it helps to see the situation through the lens of understanding why our situation is what it is.

Although my husband’s official diagnosis when we got married was Bipolar I, over the years I have come to the conclusion that this is not exactly accurate. I’m not a mental health professional by any means. However, in doing a great deal of reading and research over the years, and because of the fact that my husband spontaneously recovered traumatic memories from his childhood, I am certain that his situation is much more complicated. It is an extremely difficult and complicated process to receive an accurate diagnosis in mental health, and it is not uncommon to be misdiagnosed. Especially since symptoms overlap. Nothing is really cut and dry. In the psychiatric community, there are a hodgepodge of acronyms and names for various disorders and symptoms. There’s PTSD, OCD, DID, BPD, schizoaffective, bipolar, depression, SAD, GAD, and the list goes on. Particularly when it comes to childhood trauma, or any trauma for that matter, there is a fragmentation that can happen to the individual in the mind, and in the soul. It can have a profound effect on a person’s life as they grow from childhood into adulthood, and manifest in various ways that are interpreted by the psychiatric community by categorizing symptoms and naming them. But at the heart of it all lies one thing…deep brokenness.

I believe we are all broken in some way, shape or form. Look at our world. We are surrounded by brokenness. Physical, mental, and every other kind of brokenness. Where is the hope?

 God loves to take those that are broken, and make them whole. He wants us to bring our brokenness to Him so He can make something beautiful out of it. Sometimes, that requires Him to do the breaking…like when a doctor has to break a bone that did not heal properly, in order to reset it again. No matter what way it comes, brokenness in any form hurts. Ouch.

I read about this Japanese art form called kintsugi. It’s where they take broken pottery and put it back together again, filling the gaps with some type of gold dust. It not only repairs the object, but turns it into a new object. It actually ends up more beautiful than when it began. I'm certain that no two pieces are alike, since no piece of pottery breaks the same way. So each new piece is also an original copy.

In the midst of my own personal broken situation, I have seen God fill in the gaps of my life time and time again, with Himself. My daughter and I have walked an unusual and unique-to-us road. It has not been easy, but God has been with us every step of the way, providing beautifully for us in ways I cannot even number, there are so many. Whether it be relationships, provision, opportunities, experiences…we are rich indeed.

 But…what about my husband? What will God do for him? It yet remains to be seen, but I hold on to the belief that God will take his brokenness and make something beautiful out of it.

There are many ways I could have handled this situation, I suppose. But I have chosen to just sit tight, trusting God to somehow, some time, bring wholeness to my husband and eventually to our family. I have my deeply personal reasons for making this choice, but I am confident that for me and my daughter, it is the right one.

 I look forward to see how God is going to make kintsugi out of my husband, and my marriage! I want to see what kind of diamond comes forth from this particular coal mine.

 A new artist friend I met recently made what I think is such a great depiction of the process of brokenness. Starting at 3 o'clock and moving clockwise, you get imagery of how the process of brokenness has us starting out one way and ending up another.

Source; Debra Lynn Studios, Debra Crabtree, artist.

Source; Debra Lynn Studios, Debra Crabtree, artist.

A picture, as they say, is worth 1,000 words.

In what areas of your life do you feel broken? Share in the comments below. May God take the broken places of your life and make kintsugi out of them!

 

Owning My Story

Wow, I must apologize for it being almost an entire month since my last post! I did not intend to be away so long, especially with the blog being so new and needing to "build my audience". I'm sure I've already broken all the cardinal rules of blogging, but nevertheless, here I am!

Life has been good. Busy, but good. I'm actually in a very good place in my life, and have been enjoying a season of much peace and rest for my soul. I cherish this time, because it has not always been like this for me.

The premise of this blog is to write about various facets of my life, and how I rely on my faith to navigate me through those various facets. One of the biggest areas of my life happens to be my marriage...a marriage that is in a very awkward stage that I call "unfinished", due to my husband's struggles with mental illness.

Among the many other facets of my life...motherhood, music, faith, etc....my marriage stands out as one of the most challenging. I've discovered that, not only is it challenging to live out, but it is also challenging to write about. Me, who loves to write and has written almost everyday of my life in private journals for over 30 years. I should clarify...it's challenging to write about my marriage publicly.

There is still stigma attached to mental illness. Even though it is a very real sickness, it's not in the same category as, say, Alzheimer's or cancer, or diabetes, or ALS. I don't want to minimize anyone's experiences with those illnesses, and it is not my intent to do so. However, the fact is, none of those illnesses carry stigma in quite the same way. They have their challenges, yes, definitely. But there is also a certain amount of respect and dignity for those dealing with those illnesses, that those with mental illness do not receive.

Often times, instead, there is judgment, ridicule, isolation, fear, and lack of understanding, empathy and patience. It's just hard. So hard. I am grateful that over the past several years, more awareness is being brought to the plight of those who suffer with mental illness. Unfortunately, it often takes a high profile tragedy to get our attention (Robin Williams for example). But it's still an uphill battle.

One of the questions I get asked quite often is "did you know he was bipolar when you married him?" Should that make a difference? Maybe if I had known, I might not have married him. Because surely I would never knowingly marry someone who is mentally ill. Right?

Why do people ask me that?

Yes. Yes, I knew. He was diagnosed at age 16, and we married when we were 28. He had a history of having been hospitalized more than once after his diagnosis. So yes, I married a man with a history of mental illness.  But I also happened to marry a man who is kind, sweet, creative, loving, sensitive, talented, interesting, intelligent, spiritual...and a different race than me.

Mental illness is a touchy subject.

However, it is part of my story. Even though I myself have never been diagnosed with a mental illness and do not walk that journey personally, to be intimately involved with someone who does is a special challenge in and of itself.

And I know that I am, by far, not the only one who can attest to that.

I recently read an article written by a gentleman named Brad Hoefs who happens to be a pastor with the same diagnosis as my husband, Bipolar I. (In case you didn't know it, Bipolar Disorder is like a spectrum. There is Bipolar I and Bipolar II, each with varying levels of severity) I just discovered him, and look forward to reading more of his journey and his writings. Anyway, in this particular article, he talked about the power of owning one's story. He shared his personal journey of "coming out", so to speak, with his own story and struggle with bipolar disorder. I was touched by his courage, his honesty, and his compassion.

I was also inspired.

I've never hidden my husband's diagnosis, and have been fairly open in talking about it. He was always open about it, so that gave me the freedom to be open too. But our story, just like him, is in actuality WAY more than a bipolar diagnosis...it has taken so many twists and turns over the years that I sort of just stopped talking about it because it was just too much to get into. With the exception of a few close friends who are intimately acquainted with me and who know full details, I have not really opened up much publicly about things. But I'm in a season of life where I feel like it's time to change that. How that will look, I'm not exactly sure. But it's more than just wanting to talk about my marriage, or my husband, or mental illness, or even trying to "raise awareness"...I feel it is almost like, a calling. I've felt that gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit urging me to "tell your story." Somehow I have the feeling that it's not just about me, or my husband.

I admit, I've wrestled with that. Like I said, my marriage is "unfinished." I'm kind of in the middle of the story still, and I am not so sure how it will end. There are certain aspects that I am not yet at liberty to share...much of where I'm currently at in this particular facet of my life is touch and go. In many ways, I'm in sort of a limbo...and I've been here for awhile. But, as Brad Hoefs found out, "...I truly believe that telling your story, messy parts and all, empowers you to move forward in your life." I am ready to move forward in my life, and in my marriage, whatever that may look like. I'm ready to own my story.

So...I hope you'll join me as I continue to walk this journey. I will endeavor to be more faithful in posting.

Food for thought:

What is your experience with mental illness? Is it something you or someone you love struggle with?

How do you cope?