Category Archives: Spirituality

Shootings, Suicide, and Spirituality

I am sick to death of shootings that kill or injure ANY number of people, not just the ones that “score” enough deaths to be considered “mass” shootings. My heart hurts. My soul is heavy. My body itches to DO something to ease the enormous pain my country is in.

This is not a new feeling. I can remember the ache as far back as childhood when gang violence in the cities was more likely to make the news than a lone wolf, cis- and young white male with a high-capacity gun was.

Yes, I said it. The problem is not just guns, though background checks and limiting them will make a huge difference. The problem is not just access to mental health treatment, though some of the shooters may not have been in treatment for their mental illness. No. I believe the current problem lies in cis- white, patriarchal supremacy that is replete through American culture.

Unfriend me if you wish. I just needed to say it. Because ever since we had a week full of violence in California, Texas, Ohio, and Illinois, just to name the ones I happened to hear about, I’ve been quiet and hurting, nauseous and aching for the pain, loss, and fear. I’ve also felt more suicidal, more often than usual, with the accompanying feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose.

Then a notorious, alleged criminal is said to have died by suicide (many think not, icymi). Just having suicide in the news is a trigger for suicidality for me. And now he won’t face the justice likely to have come down on him for atrocious acts. Many hearts scream for justice, and I hear them. And death seems a real possibility again.

I talked with my therapist about the suicidal thoughts and was reminded of coping skills that I can use before the feeling gets intense. Going to church is one of those coping skills, something I do to be social, to be encouraged toward ethical action, and to be inspired by the good that IS in the world. Then today, at the beginning of a service to recognize the grief and pain and urge to act because of the shootings, the suicidal feeling came back again. In my last community, I would very often drive to church with hope, only to leave suicidal. That hasn’t happened much in my current community, but here it is, happening again.

I’m using coping skills – such as blogging about my feelings – to ride out the suicidal feelings. But my heart still aches, and my stomach is nauseous.

Inherent Dignity And Worth

In church today we recited some principles of our faith. The first one is the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, indeed every thing in the universe. The reflection included some stuff about the inherent dignity and worth of every person, as well as the need for finding meaning and purpose for life.

Some observations.

  1. It’s an assumption of mine that a lot of (most?) people in the world do not have the luxury of self-reflection or finding meaning and purpose – in their jobs, for instance. It’s a 1st world or 4th quadrant problem. Must have the basics of life going well (i.e., a job that provides for a family) before self-actualization becomes an issue, says the person in weekly therapy. I have the luxury.
  2. I do not feel I have inherent dignity and worth. I feel like a collection of cells that have gone wrong. I have so many medical problems, and bipolar is just the worst one right now. I know you will disagree with me.
  3. Evolutionary science is absolutely amazing, and each thing in the universe is awe-inspiring for how it has evolved to function in so many diverse ways. In living things, in me surprisingly, there is a survival instinct to keep breathing, keep eating, keep sleeping, keep living. It’s what has kept me alive when so close to suicide. I follow this instinct to this day when I can’t see a point in going on.
  4. So I’m in awe of how my personal cells have evolved with billions of microbes to create a living thing. But my genes mutated into a living thing that is not fit for the environment, and I first made the decision and then it was made for me, not to reproduce so that I didn’t pass along any of my (mostly heritable) mutations who would also not be fit for the environment.
  5. I know I’m not giving my body enough credit for adapting as much as it has. Nevertheless, I don’t feel I have inherent worth or dignity. Just a collection of cells not functioning even with modern science working hard.


Just Another Blog Post

I’m blogging because my therapist expects me to keep writing. It’s helping my anxiety to put in writing what I’m thinking. So, just another blog post about … nothing.

I’ve been doing some spiritual seeking this week with a new book from a friend of mine, Meredith Gould. It’s Desperately Seeking Spirituality: A Field Guide to Practice. Each chapter has questions at the end to delve deeper into each topic or practice. I’ve been journaling the answers instead of just answering them in my head. I’m not sure I’ll go back to the answers, but writing them out is helping me be more specific and targeted for getting at where I’m at spiritually these days. You’ve read about my struggles, and I feel I just have to start over. Hence, this book and its title were very on point.

I didn’t work out at all last week. I felt guilty at the time, yet now I’m glad for the break. I’m starting back up, and hope to get into the pool now that it’s closer to 90 than over 100 this week. Maybe that will help the water feel less like a bacteria-infested bathtub. Ugh. I’m not sure knowing the salt water keeps it clean is enough for me if the water is so warm. Might as well be a warm hot tub instead of a hot hot tub, if you know what I mean.

I tried yet another place to volunteer today, this time a place that gives mental health services for the community. Sounds perfect, right? Not only is there nothing available right now to volunteer to do, both email addresses I was given to contact the volunteer coordinator didn’t work. Good grief, can I get any other doors blocking my way to give back to the community and to do something meaningful with my time! I don’t really like/can’t do food service, standing on my feet for longer than a few minutes, or schlepping things from place to place. So soup kitchens and thrift stores and construction are out. My heart just isn’t in it, especially if my back can’t be in it either.

I feel like I’m getting compassion fatigue and I’m not even doing anything but staying aware of all the issues plaguing our state, nation and world right now. I don’t know how to help anything other than stay aware and I guess ready to act once one of the volunteer places opens up. I’m still politically active, if that’s a thing. I wrote up postcards for a candidate on Friday night. So that’s something.

A Hopeful Few Days

Well, I’m still depressed. But the anxiety has a reason! I saw a new psychiatrist last night. His theory is that I get more anxious when my mood changes. And since I’ve had so many mood changes over the last many years, that would produce more anxiety. And the times that I went in to the hospital with anxiety that led to suicidal ideation, I was having mood changes. So, besides social anxiety over the past several days, I am in a mood change. Which I thought. I didn’t start feeling depressed until I had been anxious for a couple days. Then there was some suicidal thinking, but nothing to worry about. Just thoughts.

He also increased my antipsychotic, is thinking of increasing one of my anti-convulsants, and stopped my anti-depressant which will just add to my anxiety he said. I agree, but it seemed to be the drug that worked to make me stable the last month. He said it may have brought me out of a depression, but ultimately won’t work to keep me out of one. Since it costs so much any way, I’ll go with him. He also wants me to consider an injection of an antipsychotic that lasts a month at a time. It’s a drug I’ve been on before with disastrous weight gain and very little if any effect on my mood. But the injection is very different he said. The research I did seemed like it would still cause weight gain. Having just passed the 30 lbs lost mark, I don’t really want to make it Harder to lose weight! But I’ll think about it.

I left thinking there were treatment options and that he had my best self in mind. I can like and trust him with my mental health.

Today I saw a new spiritual director. I haven’t seen anyone formally in close to 10 years I think. A pastor acted as one informally but more as a spiritual friend, which technically is what a spiritual director is… I shared with her the torn identity I have between my ordination history and nurture, and the new place I am, which is not feeding me as well as I hoped. I talked. She listened. She heard that I very much wanted to act on the great compassion I felt for the world. She heard that I was searching for who I am. These are things that I have discussed with my therapist ad nauseaum, but not in those exact words. It’s great when the two people you share your innermost life with are on the same page!

I’ve lost a sense of my contemplative side and of who I am and want to be in the world. I’m running in different directions trying to find places to volunteer only to have doors and windows slammed in my face, all saying not now. I guess it’s time to figure out who I am. I’ve made drastic choices to get help by moving here. By not having to think about some aspects of living because I don’t live alone, I have the opportunity to figure out who I am, even if I’m not stable. And I’m not. I’m depressed again. At least I know the feeling. I can summon some energy to act human.

Racing Thoughts and Feeling Better?

My mood is better than the last few days – I think. I can’t tell with these racing thoughts. Mid-afternoon coffee didn’t help my anxiety or racing thoughts, but that’s what I did. Now I have to live with the consequences. Darn that caffeine addiction!

I no longer want to kill myself. I didn’t have to call my therapist or psychiatrist about that one. I made the decision that I’m not going to do anything. I think I was able to do that because I was already feeling better. In the midst of trying to manage anxiety and depression, I get caught up in the pain, and death seems the only way out. It’s a very, very dark place.

I’m in a lighter, more rapid place now. I still feel a little depression. Mostly I feel anxious and spinning in my thoughts. It’s hard to pinpoint them through the constant earworms. I’ve tried a prn several times for the anxiety and racing thoughts, to no avail. I just end up tired, with only a little reduction in anxiety. Maybe it’s the wrong anti-anxiety med again, since I’m not taking it regularly anymore. Maybe now I need a fast-acting one with a shorter half-life since I’m taking it for bouts of anxiety. Something to ask my new psychiatrist tomorrow.

Spiritual angst still plagues me. I see a spiritual director for a meet and greet on Wednesday. I wish some wisdom would magically fall from the sky and I wouldn’t feel so torn all the time about the polar tugs. Do I keep my ordination identity, or do I move on? Or do I eschew spiritual practice altogether until there is some resolution? These are just some of my racing thoughts.

I wanted to focus on acceptance of the new stable mood I found myself in, and leaning into it instead of questioning when the other shoe of a mood switch would drop. Well, I think it did, and I’m depressed again. I keep hoping I’ll wake up and be stable again. I think that’s a realistic hope. I might find stable again. Or I’ll be stuck here until the inevitable August mania occurs. Why do I think the mood shifts are so predictable and ubiquitous? I expect to feel poorly and to suffer with one or the other. Is it because my whole experience of bipolar so far has been in a mood state? Unbalanced mood is the only bipolar I know. Until now. Now I’ve experienced a sense of stability and happiness that I hadn’t know for decades. And now I feel I wasted it by waiting for the other shoe to drop. How careless of me!

Reflections #10

Another day in the two week quest to see what I’m thinking. I haven’t decided if my thoughts are racing so fast I can’t tell what I’m thinking, or that I have so few thoughts that I don’t have anything I’m thinking about. If the latter it’s the first time possibly ever! When I stop to try to form a thought, there is a song going through my head at any given time. Just a couple lines, of course, just to give me an earworm. But not much else. I listen, and the thoughts are non-existent or racing so fast I can’t tell what they are doing. I’m almost thinking they are non-existent.

I saw my psychiatrist today just to get refills. I would have waited to see the new one except that I would need refills before I saw him. So I gritted my teeth and bore it. I just don’t get that she sympathizes with me at all. And I need someone who is compassionate at the very least. I don’t get that from her. Oh well. I tried. On to the next one!

I’m doing well with exercising 5x/week, half hour at a time. I vary what I’m doing between the pool, the treadmill and the recumbent exercise bike. I’m not getting in any strength training though. I could use the fitness center, but I’m doing things with the least amount of fuss possible. I’m going to the pool which takes more fuss than it’s worth, including that I have to wait until at least 6:15 to go so the sun is lower. By then the pool is bath water, which feels gross. Pool water should be a little cool when you get in…

People have been giving me suggestions for churches in my denomination to try. I appreciate the leads! Based on the websites and the distance I don’t think they are good fits though. There’s something about staying in my area so I can do things with a local emphasis. I could try the church near me again. It’s website makes me think it’s a different spirituality than I have. Torn again between two spiritualities.

Reflections #9

Welp. I forgot to blog yesterday. But it’s a new day, and I’m blogging to see in print what I’m thinking. My thoughts are racing so much that I don’t know what I’m thinking – still. It’s been weeks. I went from thinking nothing when I was severely depressed to thinking way, way too much now that my mood is so much better – happy even. Mood is still stable at happy. My emotions are fluctuating normally, a little higher, a little lower, all in response to stimuli and less based on how my mood is.

Today I’m feeling down or bored or reflective. It’s a Sunday and that makes me more reflective. In church today it felt like too many words and too much non-helpful music. The silence was nice, though my thoughts tried to drown out the sound of silence. (Cue earworm…) I tried to stay in the moment during the silence, and even during the words. Mindfulness in the moment. Only the silence felt right, though I get enough alone time at home. Intentional silence in community is different. I don’t feel alone. I feel surrounded by others’ thoughts and bodies. I can find that place of stillness in the communal silence. Even today with racing thoughts I found it for maybe 10 seconds, but it was delicious! Maybe I should try more meditation and find the stillness when I’m alone too. Usually I find the stillness more when I’m in a group of people though.

Yesterday I did some volunteering for a local politician’s campaign. It was a phone bank training followed by some calling. I didn’t realize there would be calling in a group, and I didn’t feel in the right space to do that. So I went home and thought I’d do some calling, but I haven’t yet. I did meet some good people though. Baby steps?

I’m feeling lonely today. I wish I had more friends – ok, any friends – to hang out with here. I have people I see at church, and people I see at NAMI, and people I interact with on Facebook. I don’t have people to hang out with. I’m hoping with some engagement in political things I’ll develop some relationships. And I hope that will happen also with volunteering at other places. I’d like to get out of the house more too. Although I’m liking my room better, I can still feel isolated.

I just didn’t feel up to making art today. I think it went with feeling lonely. I didn’t think I could be more introspective than I was already with church. I guess. Maybe the directive for art therapy was not on point today, and I didn’t feel like coloring.

I talked with someone at church today about how I feel caught in between loyalties. I’m a minister in one denomination and attending a church of a very different denomination. Even though I feel at home with the new worship and focus on different kinds of spirituality, I still feel a call from my home denomination. I don’t know if I should be going to both, or pick one. I don’t feel totally comfortable in the new one, I think because of feeling torn. I don’t feel totally comfortable in the home denomination because it’s so far behind where I am spiritually in most of the congregations. And this is Texas. Do you think I’d be able to find a liberal church in my denomination? I’m guessing no. But I may be underestimating my home denomination.

New Year’s Thoughts

I made it through my riskiest time of year. I did get the Christmas delusion and grandiosity a day or so early and lasted for a few days. In fact I still have the fear of the mystical and mysterious that comes with the manic experience.

See, I grew up very religious. From the time I was 9 or 10 I had the experience that I was participating in the birth of Christ in some way on Christmas Eve. It manifested as a sense of the mysterious, mystical, numinous, though I couldn’t use those terms or images until I was a young adult. By the time I was in seminary preparing to be a pastor, the feeling was strong and the experience included the sense that I helped bring/was bringing Jesus into the world and I had a special mission to bring hope or joy or love or unity into the world through Jesus.

I know, a little over the top. I even thought most people had a sense of the mystical on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t until weeks of therapy around this time of year over several years that I knew in my heart and mind that it was a manic experience and that most people don’t have a mystical experience at Christmas Eve, and I couldn’t bring it out with my worship services.

Now that I’m aware of all this, I get anxious as I anticipate this manic experience. I try not to anticipate but I do. I avoid my church during the weeks leading up to Christmas (Advent) because the focus is waiting for The Christ Child to come again and our participation in the peace, joy, and love in the world. Even though I didn’t grow up with this liturgical rhythm, you can see how it would be Not Helpful. Not only do I lose my church support system, I am faced in my mind with what I’m missing. So it’s hard not to anticipate the delusion and grandiosity.

Today is New Year’s Eve, and I am still scared of the mysterious and mystical. I’m glad the weather is bad enough I can’t travel to a New Year’s worship service. There might be too much of “opening the mystery of a new year” or that’s where my thoughts might go. Not Helpful. I’m still scared.

In the new year, I’m hoping for mental stability and the ability to ask for and act on help when I need it. I hope I don’t need the hospital. I’m also hoping to find that special someone.

Progress and Regress

I’ve been tooling along with the stabilization plan here in Texas with family. I’m still getting up at the same time and going to bed at the same time (already good at that); eating regularly (new skill); exercising 2x/day (new that it’s twice and it’s everyday); making lunch and cooking dinner (new skill, still learning); using time to exercise my brain with reading, puzzles and art (re-starting an old skill).

I’m still going to church while I’m here – a Unitarian Universalist one actually since a friend from seminary is the pastor there. Shhh. Don’t tell my family. They already think it’s weird I go to church and Presbyterian is enough for them. They’d probably flip if I went Episcopal! But we have different worldviews.

One funny thing is that we have together found a floorplan we all like that would allow us all to live together. Unfortunately it’s in Texas since my brother is the only one gainfully employed and we’d have to stay close enough to his job. That takes me away from values of long-term relationships, which I’m in back in Illinois and living independently, which may be overrated since I’m doing so well mentally and physically living in community with my family. I’d have a suite with two bedrooms and my own bathroom so I could have a couch, tv, office in one and feel I could live independently within the community.

I’m going on and on about this (unrealistic?) plan because I have been doing well and getting better in the head and body while with my family. Yay! And I don’t have the same live-in community at home. I don’t have someone doing my laundry or cleaning my house (which are things I’m good at taking care of at home, making it easier to let that happen here. But I’m cooking and exercising my body and brain, and those are all things I needed to get better at. The social environment has helped. And I just can’t get the same level of social environment at home. Hence, the flirting with living altogether as a family (boyfriend welcome to live there too – but not with someone long enough for that to be an option, IF he wanted to move to Texas in the first place. IF I wanted to move to Texas in the first place.)

Angry and Sad and Anxious

It’s f-ing Holy Week before Easter and I’m imploding. Mostly from the anxiety that turns into tension that turns into a headache that turns into a migraine. I took a walk to see if that would expel some of the energy of the feelings. The walk didn’t really help.

Holy Week is traditionally hard for me since diagnosis of bipolar, which you can see documented throughout the blog. Not as bad as the Christmas mania/delusion which can last weeks, but this Holy Week seems especially bad.

I’m grieving not leading a church through the holy days ever again. I liked making space for mystery and for people to experience something bigger than themselves in the dramatic and formational/fundamental story of Christianity. And I won’t do that anymore.

And I won’t do it anymore partially (wholly?) because when I was leading a congregation through the holy days I would experience manic religious visions and delusions. I had my own high going. I planned everything far enough in advance so that I could enter the experience in my way too, and I hoped my experience and liturgies  would lead others into the experience of Holy Week too. Holy Week and Easter, besides being fundamental to being Christian, exemplified how I approached being a pastor – making space for others to have mystical ,or at least mysterious, experiences of the divine. Like I did.

I’m angry because I won’t get to live out Holy Week again with a church, and I’m angry at mania for being the reason I can’t. So I’m mad at myself too. I’m angry that my response is an inability to deal with my feelings and therefore not being able to take care of myself very well. I’m doing the best I can, I guess. Give myself credit for getting out of bed? For getting dressed? For going for a walk? Still haven’t figured out meals today. It’s hard every day and I get so messed up in feelings that I don’t want to eat, but I need nourishment to prevent hangry outrage or turning on myself.

I’m sad because I miss leading people through holy days. I was good at it. I’m grieving the position I lost because of the bipolar. I’m sad that I’m susceptible to being ruled by these feelings so that I’m not at my best and not taking care of myself the way I want to be. I’m using skills to deal with feelings, such as reminding myself they are just feelings and I can go about my life anyway. I’m so bogged down in sadness that this skill is not working well. My therapist reminded me this is probably a week to focus primarily on distraction techniques to move through the week. I’ll get there. The time will run out, and I’ll be ok again. The moving through is what is so damned hard. Slogging through quicksand is the best image I can think of.

I’m anxious, well, because I’m anxious. I’m always anxious. Yet this anxiety is fueled by the anger and sadness. I’m anxious that I’ll take this too far and end up in the hospital again, after 70 days of being out and stable, even through the time change and equinox, traditionally difficult times for me. I’m anxious that the manic visions and delusions will happen even without participating in anything religious. Maybe just by reading about or hearing about something religious.

I’m stuck. I won’t always be stuck because time marches on, and it will be next week soon. These four days are trying to the soul, to the mind, to the body. I’m not taking good care of any of those, despite some trying such as taking a walk.