Thursday, June 16, 2005

You Can Call It Roses

Do you believe that if you don't name a thing, it loses power? I used to believe that. I guess I don't this morning.

In 1998 I sat in a therapist's office. I was in seminary at the time. Me, with the brand new lotus flower tattoo peeking out from what passes for cleaveage. Me, with the pierced nose, pierced eyebrow, and what was invisible, the pierced heart. I told her I felt the wildest, most expansive feeling of joy and abandon, but I was irritable all the time--like I was constantly hovering over a precipice, and the effort to stay out of it was really, really annoying. And I hurt, with a hurt that never seems to go away. She asked about my past, and I told her truthfully. She told me I was bipolar.

I didn't like that name. I prefer benign labels like "eccentric" or "passionate". Bipolar sounds sick. It sounds scary. So I didn't name what I had--what I was, and I went on about my business, even though I was an open wound.

In 2001 I went to the psychiatric emergency room at a nearby hospital. I was having trouble driving. I was constantly about to rear end my fellow drivers. I talked too fast, and too much. I laughed like a loon because everything was funny. I was inappropriate and brash. And then the sorrow would come wrapping me in a black cloak of despair. The ER psychiatrist used the same name the other therapist did, but I didn't want to. That name was too big, and I was too small to bear it.

I started writing about how I felt not long after that, and it was really the first time I tasted success as a writer. Like here, I found a supportive online community. I wrote my heart out, until I felt like I was becoming the bipolar poster child, and then I retreated as quickly as I arrived there. I didn't want to have anything to do with bipolar disorder anymore. I wanted a life without the stigma. With the shame and mystery of it.

And it is a mystery. Not mystery in the sacred God way, but mystery in the 'what the hell is wrong with me' way. So, for three years I didn't name it. I named depression. I named the dark night of the soul. I named insomnia. I even named bipolar disorder's peculiar cousin, new to me, Fibromyalgia, but the biting horror that is bipolar disorder, the seductive disease that afficts the artists and poets, bringing dizzying heights and devastating plunges, I would not name, and hoped to God it would disappear. I hoped they were wrong about me. I hoped I made it up, and that really, I was lazy, or tired, or high strung, or anything but that.

A few weeks ago, I told Jane that I knew when I was sick. I said it with the cocky assurance that I rewarded myself with for surviving the winter. But now I sit here partially clothed in the garments I put on two days ago, having not slept because I listened to a snatch of a song I loved in the seventies--The Real Thing, by Sergio Mendes and Brazil 77. I listened to this fragment of music for hours because it was the one thing I could hold on to and beat back the urge to break into a million pieces for no apparent reason. I would love to tell you that all night I cried out to God, but I didn't. Some people think I'm so spiritual, but I'm just a sinner. Some days God is closer than the sweet husband lying beside me sleeping while I write this. Other times, I can't find God at all, and sometimes, I don't bother to look for Him. May He have mercy on me on days like this.

A few weeks ago, it was possible that I could lie to myself and say that all that bipolar stuff was a distant, very vague memory, and I may have believed it. It was spring. The sky was immeasurably wide and full of sun, and I had survived the winter. I didn't expect the bell jar to descend again. Not this soon. Not until August when I am sun drunk and hungover, careening toward the fall. Literally, the F

It's not supposed to happen in June. It never happens in June.


But inspite of the suffocating ache that I feel, I still belong to this God that I've avoided all night listening the jazz-funk, and wanting to write. I think I was afraid that if I wrote about this, you would all run away from the crazy lady. That you wouldn't trust me anymore. That you'd think I'd be drowning my kids like Andrea Yates, or that you would say, "How could God be with her, and not heal her of this terrible affliction?"

Or maybe that question is the one I'm asking.

But I don't ask questions like this for too long. I've lived with both bipolar disorder and God long enough to realize that God may not answer this one for me. It doesn't change our relationship. Like my marriage, I love the Bridegroom in sickness and in health. Jesus still has big strong arms to hold me. He gives me these roses--my sweet affliction--this suffering that He shares with me. He gives me the heady scent of His presence in the flowering of my suffering, even though the thorns I hold so tightly make my blood fall like petals to the ground.

There is still grace here, even though my mind is a storm and I don't understand anything. Not one thing.

I still believe.

It'll do for today.



slb said...

i completely relate to this.

upwords said...


I guess when we traded October for April, winter came in June, huh? Man, my fingers are bleeding too. I love you.


Alison Strobel Morrow said...

My best friend in college was bipolar, too--you described it perfectly. She told me once that she thought King David must have been, too; she said if you read the psalms, you see that one minute he's singing for joy and praising God, and the next minute he's paranoid that his enemies are coming for him and he's on the brink of death. She got a lot of strength from the fact that someone so emotional and occasionally out of control was also called a man after God's own heart. :)

bobbie said...

oh dear one, i don't know about the others, but i love you because you own your stuff, not because you have it all together, k?

in the middle of it all you speak truth and love and it pulls at the weak places of my soul and reminds me i am not alone.

god comes closer to me through your words diva girl, closer still because of this.

that line about 'in sickness and in health' relating for god really caught me today. i never thought about that before, and staring back into a year of unknown physical junk, and into a year of figuring out what it all means, that phrase will ring deep in my ears.

praying for you even now.

Anonymous said...

thank you

wilsonian said...

When God whispered into James'ear "Every good and perfect gift" came from Him... He was talking about you.

You are, in the state you find yourself, His good and perfect gift to us.

Name it.