Category Archives: Spirituality

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.

Winter Mood Problems

snowflakeWow, it’s been a while since I blogged. Sorry, dear readers.

One reason is that I met someone special and we are beginning to share our lives together on a more permanent basis. The process is slow because he also lives with mental illness, and putting us together means my or his illness can interrupt plans to spend time together.

Another reason is that I had shoulder surgery in December. I’m now in physical therapy and function is getting better, but strength is still elusive. All in good time.

The major reason I haven’t written in a while is that I have struggled with my Christmas delusion (that I am bringing Jesus to the world and have a special mission to bring unity or hope or joy to the world). Fortunately it only showed up a week ahead of Christmas Eve. I was on haldol to keep me in this plane of existence, but I did experience psychosis from time to time when I was not in touch with reality.

I went off the haldol – as my doctor indicated – when the delusion passed. Unfortunately my mood tanked and I ended up in the hospital for a few days before the new year. Putting me on low dose haldol brought my mood back to mostly stable so I went home for the holiday.

Then last week my mood tanked again – no trigger. So frustrating. So shameful to me to have to go back to the hospital for no apparent reason. Especially after only 10 days. No med changes were made, much to my chagrin – fix something! I thought. Suicidal thoughts eased up as did my depression, and I was discharged on Friday. Another short stay! Hooray!

Now, it’s been a couple days. I can feel the suicidal thoughts again building up steam. I can feel my mood tanking. I don’t want to go to the hospital again, but I feel it coming up again. It seems the only time I stay out of the hospital are the times I mostly seem “up” which means hypomanic or manic, usually the summer. And I hate the summer. I’d rather be in the hospital then, than the rest of the year when I like the weather better and can find some solace in the times of the year.

I don’t know what to do now. I committed to teaching middle school at church next week. But I might be in the hospital again. I see my psychiatrist tomorrow and she may send me there. I try to make plans and my mood always wins. This is so freaking old. And I always feel ashamed when I walk onto the adult unit – again. Why can’t I take care of myself? And it’s hard to explain to a new person in my life. Though being in and out of the hospital shows part of the story.

 

Religious Euphoria and Mania

adventToday begins the ban on contact with religious anything for Advent and Christmas. Since childhood, and worse in the last 23 years of bipolar expression, I’ve had a religious euphoria where I get delusional around Christmas. The experience usually culminates on Christmas Eve. But the mystery and mysticism that many churches infuse in their Advent celebrations has been known to trigger the delusion earlier than the week of Christmas. Last year, for instance, I had the delusion for the whole month of December.

It is common for bipolar mania to be religious in nature. Mine happens to take the form of a heightened sense of spiritual and physical unity with all of the world – people, animals, nature. That’s the euphoria part. The delusion is that somehow I personally – not Mary – am bringing salvation into the world by bringing Christ into the world, and I have a mission to help everyone experience the mystical unity with Christ and with all of the world in order to make the world a more peaceful place. This experience is long ingrained into my experience of Christmas, and I don’t know that it will ever go away.

I have had the euphoria experience many, many times, each an expression of bipolar mania, and not a rich spiritual life as spiritual directors and other pastoral colleagues I’ve confided in have thought. Each euphoria, when it reaches its peak, has a piece of the delusion in it. I am to save the world with my actions using the power of Christ. During one manic experience, the mania before my first suicidal depression, I was inviting strangers into my home for movie discussions about the efficacy of religion. Fortunately, no one showed up for the series. I was convinced at the same time that my religious experiences were pushing me to become a Benedictine Oblate. I was flying so high in my euphoria that I was blogging about the breathless unity and clarity of vision and the visions I was having. I even started preaching about them (I was the solo pastor at a church at that time). That was the highest mania I have had, and it crashed hard into a suicidal depression that I have been dealing with off and on for over 5 years. It was the first time I felt suicidal. It is common for manias to be followed by an equal descent into depression. The higher you fly, the lower you crash.

Back to today. In order to prevent or lessen the euphoria and delusion that I’ve had at Christmastime since I was a child, I do not participate in anything religious about this time of year. It’s hard to give up what was my favorite season and holiday, but it was my favorite because of the manic expression and delusional euphoria I experienced. It felt good to fly so high and have a purpose for my life! It will still be years until I might be able to tolerate or celebrate Advent or Christmas again. Maybe it’s the way it’s celebrated in mainline churches that makes this time of year so hard for me. I find it hard to tell because I started attending mainline churches at the same time as my bipolar flowered and my mood cycles kicked in.

I’m having an especially hard time this fall, and now it is likely to get worse as the euphoria and delusion will probably kick in. I’m acutely aware of the community I’m missing by not attending church or fellowship. Even people I only know by sight. I’m losing a significant piece of my support system.

I will return to church after Jesus’ Baptism Sunday (baptism and communion as sacraments are hard for me too – a little too mystical and could trigger some euphoria). So sometime in January I can go back to church – until Holy Week and Easter, another banned time for me because of my tendency toward religious euphoria during mystical or special times in the church year.

I ❤ bipolar.

Holy Week Blues. Still

I’m not attendinholy weekg church today, Palm Sunday, or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. In the past I didn’t go because it triggered grief about not being a pastor and how special it was to lead a congregation through these victorious and agonizing days. It was always a marathon, from the pastor’s perspective. Perhaps also from the perspective of those who actually attend all of the services.

So that’s the reason I didn’t attend before. I was avoiding the trigger of what it was like to be a pastor. As a pastor and during the formation process (of 15 years) I also had manic euphoric experiences several times during Holy Weeks. They were of the unity with the Godhead and all creation kind, a little like the feeling on Christmas Eve, without the delusion of a master plan I was supposed to carry out.

Now, I’m not attending because I fear the trigger, but for another reason too. I’m worried about the manic experience coming back if I go through the week. I don’t really believe Jesus is divine anymore, so that makes the services moot too. I might have no danger of Godhead manias then. I still don’t know why I fear this week in the church year. I just want inspirational sermons and community organizing and not liturgy. Liturgy might be the trigger. But so are Youth Sunday and Pentecost (liturgy again). All have to do with my loves and work as a pastor.

I haven’t processed enough. The fear is there and I can identify one set of triggers. But there’s something else. And that’s why I’m not doing Holy Week. I hope it’s not a hard one. I have a lot of pastor friends and Holy Week is rightly consuming. I just don’t want it consuming me!

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If you see your way clear to help me pay for the miraculous experience of ending suicidal obsessions I had at La Paloma, check out my “Saved My Life” Go Fund Me page at www.gofund.me/nlckak

A Familiar Feeling in the Mania

As I’ve struggled this past week with Mania rising again (pushed along by the prednisone for the rash, my dr says), I’ve experienced what I missed most about Manias Past: the mystical feelings of oneness with the world and the ability to foment ideas that could solve problems well beyond a normal person’s life or ability. I haven’t reached the very top yet, but I’ve seen it. And the heightened senses and sensitivities (even the skin) are very much a part of Mania for me. I just haven’t put those pieces together before, since this past month is the first time I’ve experienced Mania since being medicated for and educated about Bipolar.

Part of me is enjoying the wave. “Oh boy! I remember this. This is fun! There is purpose, and mystical unity which feels so good.”

Part of me is scared $}!~less. What if this goes higher, or I start behaviors with difficult consequences? I need stability. I know this. Sane me knows this. Sane me hates the Mania that clouds my thinking, possibly all the way to delusions and grandiosity. I don’t have energy, means, or cushions to fix manic consequences.

Then there is the potential mixed state where I’m feeling Manic AND Suicidal. All I need are obsessive suicidal thoughts (as happened in July) to be in danger of fatal consequences. If I’ve got the energy and grandiosity to pull off an act (Mania symptoms), and the OCD obsessing about suicide (don’t have to be depressed for this), then I could be in danger. Sane me jumps into coping skills and support systems. But a trigger that starts the obsession, could just as easily cause a delusion that skips coping skills and plans suicide with the obsessive visions in my head that the OCD gives.

Cue a death in the community this week (previous post). Just the kind of trigger that has caused confusion and ruminating. So far Sane me has been in ascendance. Let’s hope she stays. I wish I knew the way to keep her in ascendance.

Holy Week Triggering Already

no hospitalI am NOT going to the hospital this week. Just letting you all know, so that if I DO start talking about it, you can remind me of specific skills that will keep me out!

Last week, Holy Week was a fleeting thought. I reminded myself that I made it through Christmas which is the biggest, hardest trigger for me. (Long story…) I didn’t have to go the hospital then because I was using many different coping strategies to live with the pain and move on with my life. And I reached out to my support system. A challenge I had then, as now, is that so many in my support system are – shall we say – overwhelmed themselves with the events of these weeks and therefore I feel guilty calling on them to be with my during these times. What to do.

Last week, Holy Week was in the future and I could feel myself getting better – better drugs, different skills being honed, returning to events of life before this last episode.

Now it’s Holy Week. Palm and/or Passion Sunday (depends what you emphasize…) is today. I’m ignoring – to the best of my ability – facebook and twitter posts about it or anything religious. (Religion is huge trigger for my anxiety right now. Long story… plus click on Spirituality in the category cloud.) However, I’m triggered. I’m doing my best to stay in the moment and find activities that are not anxiety-producing, or better, restful.

So, my friends, knowing myself, and already being triggered, AND not anticipating so much that it makes this worse, it’s going to be a rough Holy Week for me. Especially Triduum.

Here’s how I’m setting myself up for success. I’ve got the extra support – yet challenge – of the Anxiety Program. I’m trying to work 3 hours each afternoon after program to release some work pressure as well as do something enjoyable and productive. I’ve got plenty of Bertolli’s meals-in-a-bag to handle dinners.

I DON’T have a house I’m not allergic to since the cats are shedding their winter coats and my body hurts with all the driving to Naperville then La Grange then home so I can’t vacuum or dust. Plus, vacuuming and dusting these life-size bunny versions of dust bunnies of cat fur will make the hives and swollen eyes worse.

Here’s how you can help me:

  • Remind me that I’ll be fine by Tuesday the 2nd (Easter Monday still triggering for some reason).
  • Remind me I made it through Xmas, which is worse.
  • Remind me to be physically gentle with myself, including eliminating activities as needed.
  • Encourage me to slow my thoughts down with the cloud mindfulness exercise (leaves on a stream doesn’t work for me, but clouds do).
  • Encourage me to remember my values and to ask myself if those thoughts or these actions take me further toward my values.
  • Encourage me to take an opposite-to-emotion action. (If sad, something happy. etc)
  • remind me to listen to a Tara Brach podcast (that’s for you, Matt, though I know you are not reading this)

Thank you in advance!

End-of-the-Year Hospital Visit–NO!!!

It’s the week before Christmas and all through the house,

the bipolar is stirring, ready to douse

all of the progress, all of the strength

gained through hard work

and too many hospitalizations.

 

imagesYes, it’s that time of year when my illness is triggered just by breathing in the air that there is a holiday. I’ve moved past being highly triggered by memories of planning, leading, singing worship during Advent and Christmas. It’s a memory I don’t relish but it doesn’t cause debilitating pain anymore.

Through the year, I’ve been working with my care team to make it through the year, to identify triggers and work to avoid them, and to develop schedules and habits and skills to provide resilience. We’ve worked HARD. I’VE worked hard.

And then it’s December. Or even the last week of November in preparation for December. We uncovered that it’s not just anticipatory anxiety that makes this month so very difficult. My mental stability is at risk. For approximately 30 years, I’ve associated this time with manic experiences of magic, mystery and mysticism. Nothing to do with Santa and children’s magic. Primarily it was religious mysticism in touch with mystery.

Of course, now I’m medicated and haven’t had those experiences in 3 Decembers. And, as most bipolar persons say, I Miss those Manic experiences. They felt good. I felt connected to the world in a deep way and able to see things that other people could not. I felt like there was meaning in life. Fortunately I never did anything foolish while in these manic phases. Surprising for a bipolar person! But I miss the experiences deeply, especially because they were a part of how I experienced my spirituality.

But…

trigger signReligious symbolism – all of it, whatever the religion – triggers my illness. It reminds me of my experiences. And can push me toward mania if my meds are not adjusted properly. And that next time, I might not be so lucky not to do anything foolish, since the illness is in full bloom now. The last manic experience led to much foolishness, religious foolishness, and it hurt people. So, mania is not the right thing for me.

And reminding me of what I had triggers anxiety that has led to suicidal depression. It would be nice to feel that I was under control, scheduled, with coping skills and resilience so that I don’t end up in the hospital ever again!

Now I can identify that religious symbolism and rituals trigger my illness. This is a huge sign of recovery!

It’s a sign of health if I stay away from the triggers.

 

brainWhich I suppose means my spirituality is on hold. Even though spirituality is a part of every person’s humanity. If ignoring and avoiding religious things means not being tormented, I will gladly give them up.

The torment of this week so far is enough to warn me off from anything else that remotely resembles anything religious – and I’m in a pretty healthy place!

Let’s hope for a hospital-free end-of-the-year.