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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Brother Martin

I'm glad we've been thinking about how beautiful everyone is! My goodness, isn't that what Jesus was trying to tell us? I think it is.

Take a deep breath. Here's today's question:


Someone who wears her St. Dymphna medal all the time said...

Sister, I am in need of advice.
I was somewhat recently (about a year and three months ago) diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 (that is, with less severe mania) and while drugs and therapy have helped me out a lot I find that I cannot understand how to go on with the rest of my life.


Everyone of us lives with the possibility that our life will fall apart, from unforeseen disease, economic or environmental catstrophe or an accident. Because I know that there is no way to know which of these or whether any of these will affect my life, I do not worry about them unduly and take reasonable precautions. However, I know that my life will fall apart again at least one more time (and probably more) because of the bipolar disorder. It would be extremely unrealistic to expect anything else.


I have already gone through the plunge into depression and the slow crawl back up to normalcy and reliability several times and I am still in my mid-twenties. I never worried about how it would affect my life in the future before being diagnosed as bipolar because I had always been diagnosed as having major (unipolar) depression, an illness that one has good chances of eventually overcoming and much better chances of keeping under reasonable control. Thus, I thought that at some point it would leave my life. I had even had a few years in a row without a major episode of depression and had come to think that it had, indeed, gone from me.


But bipolar disorder never goes away and now that I know that I am stuck with it for the rest of my life (and I am sure that this is the correct diagnosis) I don't know how to carry on. I feel as though I have no hope of a future, that I will be forever mired in work for which I am not suited but which will be the only kind I can get with such a spotty work history. I have been rejected romantically specifically because of this disease more than once, although this does not bother me too much. It just feels as though all the gifts and talents that God has given me are being cancelled out, negated and smothered by this disease. I don't feel that I can ever be of good use to anyone. This is compounded by the fact that many people who would take a heart attack or diabetes seriously and with sympathy and concern recoil with disgust and ill-will from someone suffering from the extremes of mental illness.


It is a great relief to know the nature of my illness but knowing that nature I find I am stuck and no longer know how to put one foot in front of the other, or how to hope.


It is easy to say snap out of it, everyone has stumbling blocks (and they do) but I am genuinely lost, even if it is only my own stupidity and unknowing that are the cause of it. I cannot find my place in God's world, I do not know how to be of use and I'm scared. What should I do to try to figure this out?

I won't be able to figure it out. Unlike Dr. Laura, I know when I'm in over my head.

So I marched my giant shoes down to the rectory to talk to Brother Martin. Brother Martin works there at the rectory doing whatever needs to be done on any given day. Some days he's not there. He actually is there. He lives there. Some days he just can't do much of anything.

He has the same diagnosis that you do. Bipolar disorder type 2. I asked him how he copes. He explained to me how his anxiety can begin a downward spiral at the drop of a hat.

I told him I've always admired how he soldiers on, given what he has to surmount, sometimes just to get through breakfast.

I told him that I believe that courage is what we call it when we are afraid, but continue on anyhow. A person can't be called brave if he isn't afraid. Brother Martin seems very brave to me. What makes him so brave?

Brother Martin said that all he can do is his best with what God has given him that day. Sometimes just getting out of bed and eating a bowl of soup is his best. Some days he paints the entire rectory and the gazebo.

He wanted you to know that it's important not to be so hard on yourself when God doesn't give you so much on some days. Just concentrate on what God has given you today, not what he's going to give you, or not going to give you, tomorrow. And do your best with it, whatever it is.

I don't think Brother Martin realized that he is showing anyone how to be brave, or what it really means to believe that God loves you, but he is doing just that. He is fulfilling his mission as a Brother, just by coping with his illness.

I hope this helps you in some small way.

20 comments:

Helen said...

Dear Sister,
Thank you for posting that moving letter and response. It made me think of how I could be more sensitive to people suffering mental anguish.

mel said...

Sister, I wanted to share with your reader that bipolar disease runs in my family. My mother and her father both have/had it. My brother probably does too. He's never been diagnosed because he won't seek treatment. But I was literally raised with this disease. It's a huge cross for those that have it, and a huge cross for their families. But you can live with it. My grandfather ran his own business his whole professional life. He was a devout Catholic and raised 5 kids and had 15 grandkids and was dearly loved. We all knew that grandaddy was a bit, uh,,,quirky. And he had episodes of depression his whole life, sometimes requiring hospitalization. He was also prone to anxiety, and the dear Brother is right, that is sure way to start cycling down. Finding a good combination of meds was crucial for him, as was having a wonderful and very patient spiritual advisor.

My mother has had a pretty tumultuous life because of her disorder. She's never been consistantly medicated for it and should be. But she has raised 3 kids that love her. There were some crazy times growing up. But we always knew that we were loved madly by her. She's now my best friend.

Anyway, I hope these stories give your reader some hope that people can and do live with this disorder, they keep jobs and families and raise children. There are different levels of severity, and having good medical treatment makes a big difference.

Smiley said...

Wow Sister, you really know how to say things in a way that touches the soul

Monica said...

Your questioner seems very articulate! I'll bet there's room somewhere for support groups, blogging, or somehow otherwise helping others in the same condition.

Maureen said...

Dear Sister,

Thank you so much for your blog! I love visiting here. Someone oughta give you a book contract -- the best writers always combine wit with their wisdom as you do.

I have a simple question for you. One of those "please help me find just the right patron saint" questions.

I run a blog for teens called No Question Left Behind. Actually, it started out as a book but that's a long story. Anyway, I'd like put the blog under the patronage of a special saint but can't decide on who exactly. There are so many good saints for teens and also for apologetics.

Here's what the blog is all about -- it's a question and answer format (which I know you can relate too!). I collected 200 questions from teens about the Church and about everyday teen life. Then I put together a team of teens and young-20s to answer the questions from a Catholic worldview.

It's so much better for teens to hear answers from their peers than from old fogeys like me. (Though I should note that we do link to your blog as you are just way too cool.)

We're continuing to take questions (the email addy is in the sidebar of the blog) so the blog should have a long future ahead.

The url is:
www.noquestionleftbehind.blogspot.com

I'd like to ask for prayers for the teens who send us questions, our readers, and the team members who answer the questions.

Once the teens and I decide on a patron, we'll use the opportunity to promote devotion to our saint through the blog.

Thank you so much for any advice! You and your ministry are in my family's prayers!

Sister Mary Martha said...

I've visited you blog quite a number of times! I'll get to work on a patron saint matching.

Laura Bartlett said...

I suffer from depression and understand how your questioner feels. Brother Martin's advice is pretty much what I follow too.

I know it seems hard and unfair that you never get 100% better, but realize that no one is 100% all the time even if they're not contending with something like bipolar disorder.

Take comfort in the fact you're not alone .

The Ironic Catholic said...

I would also suggest: asking for and receiving sacramental anointing would be very helpful in giving you strength to bear this illness. I have found it remarkable in the past with a different, but chronic, disease....

TC said...

Sister, thank you for that post. I suffer from depression and if it's any help to that young woman, when I'm having a good day, I pray to God to let me remember that day and that good feeling the next time I'm depressed. It's too easy to believe, when you're in the thick of it, that you'll never have a good day again.

Jade said...

Not to make you pursue this topic, but I fall more on the manic side of what was once called "manic-depression." Some days I wake up a calm and loving person - while other days it's all I can do to stop myself from hurting those who love me most. I'm on medication and am undergoing intense therapy, but I still wind up acting in the most ungodly of ways. I guess my question is, does God forgive a person who sins intentionally, yet frequently? I know He's very forgiving, but does he have a limit?

It's hard to explain what mania does to a person. I don't want to break things and scream and push people and smash plates - but I do. And after every inevitable trip to the hospital psych ward I pray for forgiveness for my actions. My heart is filled with so much regret not so much for my suffering with this illness, but for the people who have to suffer with me.

In my more lucid moments when I pray to God, I want to tell him that I'm sorry for the pain I cause and I'll never do it again - but because I'm bipolar and very manic, I know that would be a lie.

It's been a few years now and some of the people who said they'd see me through the tough times are starting to move on. They can't take the drama and I don't blame them. I know it sounds strange, but will God do the same? How many times can He hear me say "I'm Sorry" before He stops believing me? Will there ever be a point where He'll simply tell me to go away until I get myself all sorted out?

I don't want Him (or you, for that matter) to think that I believe I could get away with murder as long as I blame it on my illness. I, although manic, have to take full responsibility for my actions and I try very hard not to hurt myself or the ones I love (several doctors will attest to that!). I guess I'm just wondering how God can forgive someone so messed up, who can't even forgive herself?

I'm sorry this was so long.
Good blog

JoannaB said...

Dear Someone who wears her St. Dymphna medal all the time - I guess what we see from the above comments - and from my own life -is that there are a lot of us out there suffering the same sort of thing to different degrees. I too have been discouraged and disheartened at times at not being able to enter into life more 'fully' for instance with full time work. But I guess the only way we can enter into life fully is actually by doing whatever we are doing that day to the best of our ability and some days like Brother Martin it will be getting up and living and other days we might fit in a whole lot more. And not to compare our down days with our manic days - because most people do not live at that level of high activity but somewhere in between. But to us who have been manic - being normal can seem a whole lot slower. I think it is important to try not to overload oursleves on good days so that on bad days we have a margin of space and time in which to de-stress and re-focus. I have days where I am over anxious and emotions can get out of hand but I hope to fit more of God in my life and leave myself time to keep an assessment on how things are going. I can only work part time but I can do the best of my skills in that time and you can do that too. God has given you skills for a purpose and you can use those but maybe scale down the time and aspirations and also use your gifts for others when time and mental space allows. Also see my friend's Blog - she suffers from manic depression too - http://2catholicmomof10revisited.blogspot.com/ and check out her old links. I have found blogging with similar Catholic friends an encouragement, especilly on some days when I could not do much else. Love in jesus Joanna

JoannaB said...

Thank you also Sister Mary Martha for this post - it is an encouragement to us all!

Hope said...

Jade---

There is NO limit to God's love, to God's forgiveness, to His understanding, compassion and patience. No limit. He will never give up on you, never walk away from you, and never tell you to go away and get yourself sorted out. He is with you every second of your life, holding your hand. He will forgive you even when you cannot forgive yourself, and he will love you even when you cannot love yourself, because you are His beautiful and precious Creation, for whom He has died.

my prayers are with you

Someone who wears her St. Dymphna's Medal all the time said...

Thank you sister for replying to my question and everyone for their comments. It was interesting to hear that others with the same problem are wondering about the forgiveness of self. After the gospel reading this morning, I started wondering about God's requirements for self-forgiveness along with forgiving others. It is certainly the best reason I have ever had to try not to be so hard on myself! I sympathize with Jade: one of the hardest things for me is to try to understand whether or not and to what degree I have sinned because of the illness. My priest, who has worked as a chaplain in a mental health facility says that the main thing is to be responsible about getting treatment to control the illness and that it's appropriate to understand that one's responsibility is diminished when one's judgment is compromised by illness. Still, it's hard to keep this in mind on the bad days and still harder to know how much responsibility to take. Either way though, true contrition is true contrition and just as we do not blame infants for crying in the night, however much it might annoy us, we must not lade blame on persons who are in states where they are unable to fully control themselves by no fault of their own. Drunk driving is a different case, for instance.
To hear comfort when so many are dismissive is a wonderful thing and thak you to you all.

Lauralou said...

Dear St. Dymphna medal wearer:
I suffer from severe phobias and anxiety. My advice FREQUENT THE SACRAMENTS and EUCHARISTIC ADORATION!!! Also reading "Divine Mercy in My Soul" by St. Faustina was a life changing book and is slowly teaching me to love suffering for Our Lord. Offer it up. You're never alone... Jesus did it all first. He tested your cross before he gave it to you to bear. His Grace is enough girl! Suffering is a great way to become more like Jesus in his sorrowful passion. What a blessing we get to be like him!! Buy Divine Mercy in my Soul... amazing read! Go to daily mass and get Eucharist as much as possible. Get a spiritual director or catholic/Christian therapist. Pray about what medications could help you and what God's will is for you. Join support groups. Count your blessings.
I'll be praying for you

Anonymous said...

Above, LauraLou says, "Jesus did it all first. He tested your cross before he gave it to you to bear."

Such a simple and such a profound perspective.

Thank you, LauraLou

Terry Nelson said...

This is such a good post. Thanks.

Jane said...

My husband suffers from depression, and is currently experiencing a particularly bad episode. I read this post to him today, and he found Brother Martin's advice very comforting and helpful. My husband gets very frustrated and feels guilty when he is unable to help me around the house or go on fun outings, because sometimes it is all he can do to get out of bed and take a shower. I was glad to be able to read him Brother Martin's words, and assure him that I know that he's doing his best, even when his best doesn't seem like much--like the poor widow with her small coin in the Gospel.

Leigh said...

It takes a lot of courage and, oddly enough, confidence, to admit when one is over her head. Kudos for you Sister. This person needs spiritual reassurance AND mental health treatment.I have a friend who is now in her 40s who struggles with bi-polar depression. It's a tricky disease with a number of subsets. I hope your reader gets the help she needs. By the way, for someone who tells her readers not to expect any sympathy, I sure detected some in this post. Wow..I take a leave from blogging for five months and when I return, lo and behold...you dun went and gone soft on me Sister! :-)

You're one of the reasons it's nice to be back.

Karen-Elise said...

22 yrs. ago i lost my mind. no one knew why--not then. little by little i have seen my sanity come back. they said it never would. do not believe in "NEVER" not as long as God says otherwise in his word.
i have lived with being seriously suicidal for many of those years. but recently that side of the mental illiness has taken a HIKE--people ask me how i did it--this is how.
when i felt good and at Peace with god--i made HIm a vow. this vow said "I will never take my own life"--when i got low--and so low i would think of how to do "it"--but GOD held me tight in his hand--THAT vow i made--GOD HIMSELF is Keeping! i can see him do it--every time. now my mind doesnt even think of suicide--at all. i never thought that day would come when i would wake up happy and stay happy most of the day.
i turned over to God my life--he holds on to it! he is doing for me what i cannot do for myself!
and i find my heart going out to others who are now suffering like i was--and i pray and i pray and i pray for them--without stopping.
Jesus wants me to tell you that having COMMUNION AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE--EVERYDAY, IF YOU CAN GO, will heal you of any sickness. including those considered MENTAL or emotional--you can get well. there is HOPE. i am here to tell you that! and iam HAPPY to do so!
but no matter what i tell my shrink--i will more then likely always have a diagnosis, which currently is, "schitzo-effective disorder, bi-polar type"--if the doctors ever allowed a mental patient to think that it is possible to get well--all the other doctors would get angry with them. but "Dr. Jesus" knows best!
sincerely, Sister Karen