When They Are All So Sad

August 10, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

There is a prayer my kids and I say every morning.  One line goes like this:  “To Thee we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.”  I have come to the conclusion that this valley of tears thing STINKS!

As most of you know, my brother was killed by bi-polar 2 1/2 years ago.  Bi-polar is a mental disease that is not well-understood nor well-diagnosed.  It has several components including highs that make the person think anything is possible… they might go on a buying spree, start a huge project, or otherwise be the life of the party.  In this phase of the cycle, they believe nothing is impossible, that they can do it all, and that they can and should do it all perfectly.  (In many, this is the predominant way they look at life long before the crashes start or get very long.)  Others see these people as positive, upbeat, go-getters.  Nothing stands in the way of their success.

Then the crashes start coming.  This disease, bi-polar, was known for many years as “manic-depressive.”  The manic stage is the high.  The depressive stage is the crash.  At first the crashes may start small, but as the disease progresses, the crashes become full-blown depressive states and may last from a few hours to months or more.  The person, who was normally upbeat, cheerful, and thriving hits a wall they (and those around them) do not understand.  They lie in bed, unable to get up even though they know they should.  They sit in chairs and stare straight forward, unable to get the energy to go again.  During this phase (as well as sometimes the manic phase), they become confused, disoriented, and completely overwhelmed.

All those projects they started become monsters.  All those things they bought become debt they can’t pay.  They see the confusion and concern in the eyes of those around them who do not understand why their vivacious, go-go-go friend or family member suddenly won’t even go to a party… much less get out of a chair.

Then the cycle repeats.  I remember when my brother after having gone through 10 months of depression suddenly came out of it into a manic phase.  I called him one night.  He was talking so fast, I could hardly keep up.  He had been awake “cleaning and organizing” for 3 days straight.  He said he figured he’d been asleep for 10 months, now that he was “better” he was just catching up.  But the “catching up” caught up with him, and 3 months later, he crashed even harder than before.

He got help–in the course of the two years that we knew he was dealing with this disease, he went to several doctors, psychologists, a couple of psychiatrists, at least two priests, as well as talking to us about things nearly every day.  He took medicine that didn’t seem to work and had mini-manic and crash cycles throughout.  We did not know about bi-polar at the time.  We thought if we could get him to the right person, or on the right medicine, or something, our brother would be back to his old self–and maybe it would have if we had ever found the right combination.  But every “up” brought more projects that became increasingly overwhelming to maintain in the crash phases.

It was frightening, confusing, and frustrating.

Unfortunately, like cancer and heart disease, bi-polar also kills.  Cancer eats the organ it is attached to and then spreads.  Heart disease closes off the arteries to the heart, denying it the blood supply it needs to function correctly.  Bi-polar eats sanity.  It throws the brain chemicals out of whack, making too much of some chemicals at times and then over producing others without the regulations that should be in place to keep the brain chemicals in proper balance.  As “Bi-Polar for Dummies” says, it is like being in a car where you press the accelerator and go 174 one day or one minute and then the next the car will only go 5, and there are precious little moments of balance between the two.

When bi-polar takes over, as with cancer, the person’s sanity has been eaten to a certain point, episodes of loss of control happen.  I heard someone after my brother’s death tell of a man with bi-polar who wrote a story about sitting with a gun thinking he should just use it.  After writing the story, the man had the odd sensation that it wasn’t just a story, that it had actually happened, but he didn’t “remember” it the way you or I would.  In bi-polar, something “else” sometimes literally takes over, and the person suffering takes their own life through suicide.

That’s what happened to my brother.

That was bad enough, and something I would never wish on anyone.

Then last week, bi-polar visited my family again.  We had known my brother-in-law was struggling with depression.  It sounds so common sense now that we should have done something to help.  But some people are very good at hiding bad, and we didn’t know how desperately he was struggling with the same demons that overtook my brother.

The night we got the news that my brother-in-law had died, we loaded up the kids and went to where his family was.  Walking in was like knowing what that valley of tears would feel like and praying for the strength to walk it again–wondering with each step if you can.  The grief was unimaginable.  He had hidden the bad so well that many in the family had no idea.  His kids, who are good friends of my kids, were in shock and grief.  Every new person through the door started the tears once again.  It was hard, heart-wrenching, and incredibly painful.

The next morning when we got up, facing another day in our “new normal” that we would never have chosen, my six-year-old son crawled up onto my lap.  He looked at me with these big, sad eyes and said, “I just don’t know how to cheer everybody up when they are all so sad.”

Sometimes he captures even better than I can what is in my heart.

I humbly ask  you to  say a prayer or two for this family now walking through this valley of tears, for understanding as far as it can go, for the adjustment to the “new normal,” and for them to be gentle with themselves and with each other.  Also for wisdom and good guidance for all of us going forward.

Finally, pray for those with bi-polar and those whose lives are effected by this insidious disease.  Bi-polar kills–not always but sometimes, and the grief it leaves in its wake is unimaginable.  If you have bi-polar or know someone who might, please get them help.  If you know someone whose life has been touched (or ripped apart) by someone whom bi-polar has killed, PLEASE be gentle with them.  They are confused and heartbroken–just as they would be if their father, mother, sister, brother, son, or daughter had died of cancer or had been killed in a car wreck. Compassion is the order of the day, and if you can’t think of anything constructive to say, just give them a hug and tell them you’re praying for them… and then follow through and pray.

Judgment in these situations is the default evil.  It is Satan’s way of adding guilt to the people left in the overwhelming wake of bi-polar.  Please be kind, and do not add more tears to the valley.  Believe me, there are already plenty there.

Two books I highly recommend to begin to understand this disease are “Bi-polar for Dummies” and “An Unquiet Mind.”

Finally, if you are suffering from this disease, don’t be so good at hiding bad that you take getting help off the table… we love you, and we want you to live!

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Words

August 21, 2008

By:  Staci Stallings

 

My best friend had ovarian cancer in high school.  She battled for two years from the time she was 16 to the time she was 18 before finally being declared cancer free.  Recently, we were watching TV together, and someone mentioned the word cancer.  Since she was heavily into planning for the Relay for Life, a cancer fundraiser, that word stuck in my head.

           

Several nights later, I was at church, and the pastor made an off-handed comment about suicide.  It wasn’t a direct thing, just something about how bleak our life would be without God.  At that moment a new understanding dawned on me about the power of words, and in particular, our words.

           

You see, my older brother died last year at the age of 42.  It wasn’t a car accident or cancer.  He died by his own hand.  Suicide. Ever since then, I’ve heard the word “suicide” very differently than I ever had before. 

           

Not that it was not a scary word to me before.  I’ve had several close friends go through times that brought them to the brink.  So suicide has in my life vocabulary for a long time but not the way it is now.

           

Now, when I hear that word or references to it, it jars me like no other word out there.  In one second I can have a flood of memories and feelings come back to me—that morning when I got the call, the house when I got there, the family, him lying in the coffin (that one I still have immense difficulty processing), and on and on.  All of these are accompanied by the what now’s?  With three children, what will he miss?  How are they doing?  How can I help in a situation that’s not fixable?

           

All of these and more in one heartbeat.

           

The trouble is, I never know when this word is going to pop up with all the stuff it brings with it.

           

Thinking about this later, that’s when I remembered my friend, and I started wondering if the word “cancer” does to her what the word “suicide” does to me.  When she hears it, do all those memories come flooding back?  Does she question why it was her and why then?  Does she wonder why she made it back into the land of the living and others have not?

           

 I suspect she does though I haven’t gotten the courage up to ask her yet.

           

Then I began thinking about other words and what they do to people.  Words like:  divorce and depression and overdose and alcohol or drugs.  Maybe you know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you know words that aren’t even on this list.  Words like:  miscarriage or unemployment.  Words like:  bankruptcy or accident.

           

What I want to say to all of those silently grieving or hurting over these words is, please know that you are not alone.  Don’t think that you are the only one who processes these words so very differently than everyone else.  You’re not.

           

But also please remember that there are others among you, others you might not even realize who are doing the same thing with the words you speak. It is impossible to know all the details or even the situations involved, but please be aware that your words have power.  And being sensitive to them is a step in the right direction for us all.

           

If you feel so led, I would like you to consider sharing your words with us.  What words stop you in your tracks with memories you thought were gone or healed?  Maybe if we talk about those words, we can all become more conscious of them and other words like healing and help and love can begin to take over.  The conversation has to start somewhere.

 

Need words of healing, comfort, and encouragement, feel free to visit Staci Stallings, the author of “Words” at her publisher’s site http://www.spiritlightbooks.com or her personal site:  http://www.stacistallings.com  You’ll feel better for the experience!