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

A Changing Voice

close up of wire against blurred background

Photo by Johnny Mckane on Pexels.com

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
~ C.S. Lewis

I’m not who I was five years ago.

Five years ago. The downward spiral was at breakneck speed. I refused to take communion that day, the first Sunday in February 2014 because I thought I wasn’t a Christian anymore. The biggest lie had settled and rooted in me, rotting my understanding: I had become unsaved. A month later I would do the bidding of the voices in my head and attack my husband. I would sit stunned in a cell in Chester County Prison.

Five years ago I clutched out desperately in what was left… confusion, terror, constant visions of carnage, my own guilt. Mental illness, breakdown. Down, down, down. Yet held in strong, invisible arms. It wouldn’t get to the point of no return. But I didn’t know that yet.

In the process of finally accepting my bi-polar diagnosis and taking medication I began to see I was still in my Daddy God’s arms. I was accepted into the Mental Health Program at Chester County Prison. Moment by moment I began to breathe life in again. I was emerging from death thinking and living, and after five and a half months behind bars, walked out into the sunshine again.

Over the last four years or so since, I was protected like a little baby, snuggled close and rocked, fed, cared for. When the shame of what I’d done knocked me sobbing to the floor, I quickly recovered. I wrote and gave my testimony several times. I felt vibrant and free.

But in these past few months a new paradigm is pushing in. I am being set down on my feet, learning to walk. I’m beginning to feel the pain of growth, the emotionally excruciating process of enduring flash-backs. Instead of trying to push them away and shove in happy thoughts and feelings, I’m being asked to experience the torture. Press in and let it sink down deep. Feel it in a safe place (usually on the floor of my room, crying, worship music playing, a friend — or several friends — praying while I sit alone but not alone). I write and write in my journal, crying till I’m spent.

woman crying, pain

I see that like getting an abscess sliced open so it can drain, submitting to God’s work in this makes sense. I don’t like the sting of it, but if that’s part of the process I’ll grit my teeth and say Do it. Even when He tells me I won’t have anaesthesia this time that I’ll experience every stab, pang and spasm as it’s draining out — so be it. I choose to trust You. Do it.

I say Yes to God because as a Christian this is what I signed up for, not to stay in  dysfunction till it kills me from the inside-out. You see, much as I don’t want it to hurt, way down deep I really want to grow. To see what is actually going on inside. Then to move forward from right here as I am. To face what I did five years ago and to finally heal. To build on what has been happening all my life, accelerated these last few years, especially these last few months. The upheaval of what I had inherited in my family line – all this perfectionism, this inferiority/superiority, this I need correction, who are you to correct me?

And I realize I am so new at all of this and I feel so small, so incapable. I want to get better, though. So with shaking hands I hold the flashlight to see into the darkness of my heart. What is there, what is really there?

I’m waiting for revelation. Because as I begin seeing shapes gelling and forming images, how do I interpret them? And I’m so tired, I just want to sleep, to escape but somehow still move forward. Instead I press in. Feel it. Feel it some more. Yield, give in to the work that is where I am right now, the reality of the pain I carry. I can acknowledge there is a cause even as I have no idea the shape of it.

All my life my  modus operandi has been some form of Flail, Flight, Flee. I am learning now how to fight, to stand for myself. To know myself and accept what I see there. I am learning I am a created wonder, also hand-crafted (it’s not just others who are “special and God loves you very much”). I have inherent value and am worthy because I am born of God. This mind I was given (bi-polar and all), this body, this set of life happenings… my years of skillset-making — all have value.

I reach out to Ka’en, my best friend. A part of me resents that she is farther along, but what is that? She is farther along, this is such a treasure. She is showing me where she has been and it looks a bit like where I need to go. So I choose to humble myself. For foolish pride is like banging my own head with the shovel in my hand instead of using it to dig to the deeper life. To find the hidden path and to follow it, I need the light of one who has walked it before me. She shows me and I learn. We need each other, for where I have been is a new path to her, too. This intertwining of lives is what we were made for. Not in a co-dependent way but a divine integration of lives that builds up, strengthens, reaches out and loves as alone we could never do.

couples sitting in while facing mountain

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

And I see that divine intertwining in my marriage. For this oneness is what we have in Christ, a dim representation but the best there is on this earth. So I choose to press in deeper, to see what can be learned here. In this world of marital disintegration, ours will shine as a beacon. There is hope. But where I am right now I don’t see the how of it. But I choose to submit to the path that will take us there. Whatever it takes.  I am willing.  Lord, I trust You for the next steps. That even now You are working in my husband’s heart, too. That he is feeling the pressure to change, too. That when the time comes he will be ready. That we will both be ready.

I am scared, honestly. I don’t see the way and all of this is so new. This generational junk busting, this icebreaking ship that is me, that is pushing forward for there is hard (good) work to do.

This I know:
The self-protection has to go.
The fear of exposure has to go.
The clinging to what is familiar at the expense of going forward into the unknown has to go.
The inferiority I mask with judgmentalism, with I’m better than you when inside I’m self-doubting – has to go.
Unteachableness has to go.

arms up surrender

What will fill its place? For we were made to be full of good things. We were made to embody all the Fruit of the Spirit…
Love:
sweet acceptance, openness, desire to draw out the godly in others, in me; gentle guiding, chiding, encouraging to grow, encouraging the God-seed in them.
Joy:
deep-down bubble in the midst of pain, a steady undercurrent of insight – for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  The settled calm of a weaned child with her mother. Smiling up at her Father, open and free.
Peace:
the all-is-well of understanding, placid sister of joy, the undergirding steadiness. Fruit of trust, I know my Dad is over all and in all. I can rest.
Patience:
I can wait, I can stay here as long as needed, for it will all come to fruition. I am settled in who I am so I can be tolerant, accepting of others. A sweet sister fruit of love, for love compels me to come alongside you and walk with you – however long it takes. Love is patient, love is kind.
Kindness:
sweet flow of patience, I see from others’ perspective and love them as they need in the moment. I give, I speak the very deeds and words of Christ, seeing Him in others, overflowing with hope of glory.
Goodness:
gentle purification, this Holy Spirit work scrubs my inner being till I shine with God-glory. A oneness between motive and action for the good I do pours from the good I have become.
Faithfulness:
Godlikeness looks like this. I don’t give up, never give up on others, never give in to the darkness but cling to my Jesus no matter what. I choose to honor Him and others regardless. I am in it forever. Perseverance is its little sister, its partner here. Unshaken.
Gentleness:
Selflessness breeds gentleness. I can treat others with tenderness in         speech and action. Honor treats with a soft hand, whether from a higher or lower station. A way of preferring them above myself, a stepping aside, a way to express love.
Self-control:
Gentleness flows from self-control. My impulses and urges surrendered, my controlling controlled by Holy Spirit, I can release the one in front of me from my desire to emote. It shows me the way I am to go in harnessed power. Meekness looks like this.

sliced fruits on tray

Photo by Trang Doan on Pexels.com

A bellyful of sweet fruit, more and more as I am filled again and again – abundance, enough to share. A treasure trove of sweet water, pure and holy, straight from God’s throne, bubbling in my belly up to eternal life. Bucketsful for me and for the thirsty in my way.

Trials are to be embraced and rejoiced in. Counterintuitive, but isn’t that how this paradox works? So I embrace the pain and I decide, here and now, to let it do its work – all of it – in me.

Never done, there’s always a next level, a higher becoming. For becoming like Christ is becoming like God incarnate, and I am not anywhere near there yet. But where I am now is where I’m supposed to be. No condemnation, no shaming. Jesus took my shame on the cross. How horrible, how beautiful. How loving in excruciating illogical agony. You are love and this is what love looks like.

I seek truth, not to be cocooned in any self-deception, in seeing with human eyes only. Dazzle my eyes with what really is, and I will reel in freedom. Living in divinely-revealed reality is what I need. This is what true Christianity looks like and I want the Voice of Jesus to radiate out of my very being.

So I lay down on the surgeon’s table and close my eyes. I know however much it hurts I’ll emerge more like my Savior. It’s so, so worth it.

lioness lying on grey dirt near grey rock

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com