This Brain of Mine

black bunny white mask

I am learning to accept my brain. Ah, that cranium filler has had its share of adventures, and in the 51 years I’ve been living with it, I’ve mostly been rather hard on it.

Why?

Comparison (rarely favorable).
Expectation (often unreasonable).
And reasons I have yet to discover.

When I was a little girl I’d run and dance and sing basically everywhere I went. I was joyful, so happy being me. A favorite memory was when my mom asked me to take out the compost. Weird? Maybe, but I had a little routine I always followed, and since I got to take the compost out almost daily (our container was small and we really like fresh fruit and veggies), it’s a deep and happy memory to pull out.

little blonde girl swinging on swing

My childhood mind was so happy and free!

I’d trot out the back door, down the steps, past the little garden and the swing set, almost to the back fence, stop and sniff a pink rose on the rosebush near the compost pile. I’d fling the compost from the container, then skip back… Plopping the container by the swings, I’d sit on the seat and pump to the trees (pointing my toes at the willow branches). I’d sing old hymns at the top of my lungs (like all three verses of “Redeemed” from the green hymnbook at church), then the Alphabet Song. I’d slow down and hop off, grab the container and back to the kitchen I’d go.

I was so, so happy. But first grade I had Mrs. Stambaugh and she couldn’t stand my constant jabbering in class. Really she wasn’t unreasonable telling me to stop talking to Debbie Erlingston, my best school friend, that day. She even moved us apart, but within seconds I snuck back to Debbie’s side. Well she had it at that point. I got yelled at and brought to the front of the room, where she spanked me in front of everyone.

downward spiral

Just like that, everything inside changed…

I lost my voice that day. My brain told me if I just stayed quiet I wouldn’t get in trouble. That messing with teachers leads to humiliation.

I didn’t know why (I was too young when it happened to understand the resulting trail of fear) — but in school I barely spoke to anyone, and was terrified to talk to even the kindest teachers. When I stood outside my college adviser’s door one afternoon, belly clenched in fear, almost hyperventilating, I finally ventured a prayer before walking in… “Why am I so afraid of teachers? Of this adviser who is so kind?” Immediately I was again standing in front of all those first graders, receiving swat after swat on my rear end.

And I was both mad and scared at this revelation. What is the power of this thing holding me captive all these years later, steals my joy, and makes me tiptoe through a life I’m supposed to grab and enjoy? My mind had stored the footage and now I knew if I was going to walk in some sort of freedom I had to look at it and do some forgiving.

My mind had made all public authority figures, and usually my parents, terrifying because of one teacher on one day, in a span of maybe 10 minutes. I’m learning that traumas are like that.

I did my best to forgive Mrs. Stambaugh and get on with my life but found that ugly footage popping back into my head when I was praying during Bible Study some 20 years after my terror in the college hallway. After confessing latent lack of forgiveness for her and, surprisingly, a bit of bitterness harbored deep inside against my parents for not being as good as I thought they should have been (basically I needed to forgive them for not being God), I was — at last — free.

But as I’ve been traversing the path of therapy, more and more twisted images are surfacing.  I’m forced to acknowledge the sometimes devastating rollercoaster of my brain’s makeup, its deep-set wiring:  I have bipolar disorder. A mental illness, an unwanted superpower.

Yep I said superpower. Over the years my mind’s jerked  me to sky highs and suicidal — even psychotic — lows. I’ve been institutionalized, I’ve gone to prison. I’ve lost and gained friends. The best of them have stayed, but I grieve the lost ones, lost because I snapped at them and snapped off a good, growing friendship. I’ve produced beautiful music, poetry and prose, I’ve screamed and cried and sat catatonic. I’ve attacked those closest to me and even stabbed my husband with a kitchen knife because I thought I was dead and demon-possessed and had no choice.

woman crying, pain

So. much. pain.

It’s been a rough, rocky road. This is a cliche phrase, but springs to mind as it really does apply. I’ve hated how my mind works and begged God to just heal me! Make it all better! Take me back to that carefree girl taking out the compost and singing! Please! I’ve gone to renowned healers and been prayed over and for. And every time God has said, in His silence and whispered gentle nudge, “Acceptance is key.”

Acceptance? Why can’t I just medicate it away? Why can’t I wishful thinking it away? Why can’t I deny it, pretend I’m okay, push it away? Why can’t I finally find the magic healer to pray it away?

Because this is how I was wired from the start and if I believe Psalm 139, well God was doing the wiring. Now God could very well decide, at some point, to rewire my brain and make me — normal. But until that day, which I’m not going to count on, I choose to daily view my brain — my God-given mind — the way it is, and I choose to say:

I accept you just the way you are.
I choose to see you and to grow with you and learn how to live from — not against — my diagnosis.
I accept this is where I am and I’m getting therapy to understand the hows of this brain of mine…

And I mine for the goodness. Because God, in His amazing and unfathomable wisdom, gave me good in this gift. I experience highs many don’t know and lows many wouldn’t want in a million years. It’s been excruciating at times, even with medication to keep things more or less even keel.

But I’ve experienced creativity that makes me feel like I’m flying in the stars… and when someone speaks of being so depressed they’re not sure they want to live anymore — I get it.

Did I want it? No.
Can I make it go away? No.
Would I want to be “normal”? I don’t know. I don’t even know what that would be like.

All I know is what I have. And this curse/gift makes me run into my Daddy God’s arms every day to navigate whatever adventure each day holds — because believe me, a life with a bipolar brain is a daily adventure.  And I look into His eyes, knowing whether I live with this all my mortal days or am healed in a couple of months or not until I get to Heaven…

I am grateful for my brain, thankful for my mind.
I accept me just the way I am, right where I am.
And, mysteriously and beautifully, I find I can accept you too, just the way you are — with all your faults and flaws and unwanted physical and/or mental gifts.

Because I get it.
I’ve got plenty myself.

And, every once in a while, I get on a swing and pump my legs till I’m almost parallel to the ground, singing (if only in my heart) at the top of my lungs. My mind is little again — free! — just loving life, immersed in the moment. Enjoying it while it lasts.

back of girl on swing

Just happy right now

1 thought on “This Brain of Mine

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