June 30, 2010

Permanent

One of the aspects of being bipolar that has been hard for me to handle has been the permanence of the illness. When I was dealing :only: with depression, there was a hope that I would get through it, and that would be the last time I would ever have to deal with it.

Now, I understand that most of the time that's not how it works for people with depression either. But still, there was the hope that something environmental or spiritual had triggered my depression, and when I got that taken care of, I would be happy again.

Having bipolar disorder is a whole-life type of a thing. It will affect me when I have babies. It will affect me through hormonal changes in life. I will always have to take medication to stabilize my body's brain chemistry. For the rest of my life.

I know that this isn't a huge deal on many levels. People with diabetes deal with this reality. People with even more serious diseases like cerebral palsy or disabilities like being paralyzed have to deal with the permanence of their situation. But this is my lot in life, and for me, it's still a little bit difficult to get used to.

When I came back from Europe, my body kind of went crazy (in the literal sense of the word?) and I started to feel moody and depressed and irritable; I just didn't feel like myself, definitely not up to the par that I had been feeling before we left for Europe. After discussing this with my counselor, I discovered that people with bipolar disorder have a terrible time adjusting to changes in timezone. I changed 7 time zones. So it made sense that my body was going nutso.

The whole key to managing bipolar (besides a good medication) is finding stability and balance for your life. Eating regular meals, getting good amounts of sleep with a regular bedtime, having a routine, etc... So traveling for two weeks, being in different hostels every night, getting 3-4 hours of sleep some nights, eating new foods, walking a lot...all of this took a toll on my body. And then when we came back, with the time zone change, the chemistry in my body was all out of whack.

This is something I will have to take into consideration for the rest of my life. I'll learn to manage it and expect it and plan for it, but still, every family vacation we take for the rest of my life will have to allow for mommy to resettle into her routine.

Thinking about this all has brought to mind two verses.

"All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth to those who keep His covenant and testimonies." (Psalm 25:10)

Amy Carmichael said once that "I just have to believe that "all" means ALL."

That's what I'm choosing to believe...that all of the paths-including the path God has me on right now- are filled to the full with lovingkindness and truth.

The second verse is from Psalm 16:5 - "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot."

The lot in life that God has given me...He is the one who supports it. There is comfort in knowing that whatever lies ahead, whatever roads God leads me and Jeremy, God will be supporting us the whole way. And the beautiful thing is, in the midst of all of it, God the LORD is my inheritance. He is the goal.

I realized last night as I was re-reading Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb that with the diagnosis of being bipolar, God has guaranteed that Jeremy and I will have to cling to Him and seek His guidance and support for the rest of our lives. In every change of season, He will have to be our rock and refuge. And I decided that there are way worse things in life than being in a place where you have to depend on Jesus completely for survival.

June 28, 2010

There

Yesterday I sat for two and a half hours and talked with a good friend. It was a deep conversation, one with many tears and memories. I told her about my life lately...about how blessed I feel that my medication has helped me feel so good and normal these past few months, but how I still feel all twisted and messed up inside my heart. I'm happy and stable, but there's still not something right about my relationship with God--which has always been a priority in my life.

I feel confused, beat up, and (not to be dramatic, but...) a bit traumatized. These past two years have been tough on me. I feel like I have just emerged from war... a battle for my life. After struggling and fighting against suicidal thoughts for months at a time, being depressed for years (almost ten) and not knowing which direction was up in terms of how to process my spiritual life in the midst of all of this, I feel very uncertain of which way to go from here.

Yesterday we traced some of my issues with prayer back to an experience I had when I was fifteen years old.

I remember I was sitting in my room, crying, thinking about how my mom was dying, and suddenly this compulsion came over me, and I realized with a horrified feeling in the pit of my stomach that I hadn't been praying enough for my mom. All of these voices from people who had told me that my mom could be healed and we needed to pray for her filled my mind, and I felt so guilty, like maybe it was my fault that my mom hadn't been healed, maybe if I just prayed hard enough we would see a miracle.

For the next two weeks, I prayed harder than I have ever prayed in my entire life, trying to believe and ask by faith that God heal my mom (because you have to believe when you ask, right?) I tried to convince myself that I believed it could happen, even though so much doubt filled my heart. I asked God over and over for her healing, thinking that maybe, like the persistent person in the parable Jesus told, God would eventually get tired of my asking and just give me what I was asking for (that was the interpretation I was taught, at least.)

On May 8, after praying my heart out for two weeks, I sat beside my mom, held her hand, and encouraged her into the Kingdom. "You can go, Mom" I told her. I knew it was her only option, and I wanted her to know that I understood. And then I sang It Is Well. It was one of her favorite hymns.

But I didn't understand, and all was not well. I wanted it to be. I tried to be okay. I tried to believe that God hadn't been toying with my heart. Why would he prompt my heart to pray for my mom, only to have the answer be such a resounding and obvious "no"? What was the point of even praying? I didn't want to be a cliche. I didn't want to look back and hold resentment toward God for not answering my prayers...I knew God was bigger than I could understand, and I wanted to be mature enough to handle a "no" answer. I tried to be a grown up. But it was too much. My heart was broken, and this unanswered prayer would haunt me for the next 7 years.

I recounted this story to my friend, and she asked me a very poignant question. "What would you say to that 15-year-old girl now, if you could go back to her and talk to her about that unanswered prayer? What do you think she needs to hear?"

I didn't know. I cried, wishing I knew what to tell my younger-self to make it better, but I just didn't know what to say. Pointing out God's goodness didn't seem appropriate. Talking about God's sovereignty would have been a blow to the face. God's perfect purposes weren't much of a consolation. I didn't know what to say.

We talked for a while longer, discussing the lies that have been "truth" in my mind for such a long time, lies about who God is, lies about who I am. We talked about the Bible, and how my heart has such a hard time being open to this oh-so-familiar book. And then, in the midst of this conversation, I started to weep. I don't know where the thought came from- probably the Lord- but all of a sudden I knew what that little girl with the broken heart needed to hear.

"He was there." I choked out. "I would tell her that Jesus was there. He was there in the in the room with her while she was crying out to God. He was there when her mom's spirit left her body. He was there. He never left her."

And I realized that this was what that little girl inside me needed. Not a lesson on the theology of God. Not a discussion of his goodness. Talking specifics were too difficult at that time...I didn't trust discussions about God- too complicated and messy. But Jesus...Him, I still trusted. I don't know why, but even after all of this, I still trust Him. And for some reason, that was all I needed to know--that all along, through the depression, through nights where suicide seemed like the only answer, through nightmares and memories that seem like nightmares, through death and grief and loneliness...through it all, he has been there. He has never left me.

"But as for me, the nearness of God is my good." [psalm 73:28]

June 25, 2010

Switzerland

Our second stop on the journey was Switzerland. We started in Zurich, which was an...interesting introduction to Swiss culture. Let's just say that the receptionist laughed mockingly at me...twice...in the span of one hour. Mean Swiss Lady. I was a little bit bitter, and may have commented on how I hated Switzerland once or twice. But that was an overreaction. Switzerland turned out to be extremely delightful.

We spent the first day in Zurich, where we walked around for a while and then ate a sandwich in a park. Sandwiches were the cheapest thing we could find to eat. This little park was the only seating we could find.

It was so precious...there were pregnant women and moms pushing strollers everywhere. One such adorable mother came and sat down near us with her little girl. She lifted her out of the stroller, laid her out on a blanket, and sat there beside her, smiling at her baby. I looked at Jeremy longingly, baby fever setting in. And then we looked back, and there was the mom, with her...well, "mother-parts" out for the whole world to see, breastfeeding. So many things wrong with that situation. Breastfeeding in a park. In front of us..three feet away from us. While we were eating. It was so "natural" and "beautiful" that we decided we should probably give her some privacy.

It wouldn't be right for me to not let you all know that this was one of many times this happened to us throughout our travels. Lets just say that this aspect of Europe definitely left an interesting mark on Jeremy.

Anyways, enough about breastfeeding.

Here are some shots from Zurich:











After Zurich, we took a train to Interlaken, which is, if you're not up on your German between (Inter) two lakes (Laken). It was so beautiful, and the people there were extremely kind, friendly, and fun! We stayed a great youth hostel, watched the first soccer game there, and ate our first officially Swiss meal.




This sausage was very...Swiss-German. It was good, but I couldn't finish the whole thing! And to be honest, dipping it in mustard wasn't exactly my cup of tea.



This slab of chocolate was just one of those things that we had to try. We didn't really think to check the price for this small piece of chocolate (about the size of our hand...) before we purchased it. Ten francs later, we were enjoying this corn flakes chocolate bar and two little truffles. They were worth it.




The hike through the mountains was just beautiful. It was warm, but not blistering heat, and it was very peaceful. There weren't cars allowed on the path, so it was just fellow travelers walking to and from the mountain pass. Up to that point on our walks through airports and back and forth to hostels, I had been setting the walking pace at what Jeremy endearingly referred to as "grueling". At one point he mentioned that if we were actually playing Oregon Trail, little Marta would have died from the strenuous pace. What can I say? I have long legs and a purposeful stride.

On this walk, however, I proved quickly that while my gait is quick, my stamina falls in the "quite lacking" category. We had plans to hike for a few hours up into the mountains. But about an hour and a half into it we weren't even close to being "into" the mountains...so I turned decided to Jeremy and said "it's time to go back." He, being the sweet husband that he is, didn't even comment on how big of a weenie I was being. We went back and made it to the hostel in time to watch the first World Cup game. All in all, it ranked up on the top 3 days of our trip for me.






After Interlaken, we took a train to Langnau, which is the area where Jeremy's great-great-great(?) grandparents had a farm. We ate at a little pub (very quaint) where we received directions (in broken English) into the hills of Switzerland to Aspi, where this farmstead was located. We decided to walk because, as Jeremy assured me, it "wasn't that far." And honestly, it wasn't a long walk. Unfortunately it was uphill...and just as bad, it was downhill on the way back. Walking downhill was easier, but it was such a steep walk that I ended up getting terrible shin splints. I could hardly walk the next day! Oh well. It was beautiful and very fun to see where Jeremy's family came from. It was pretty hilarious trying to communicate with the people of these various farms. You see, we didn't know exactly which farm house was the one his grandparents had lived in, so we were planning on just asking around. We had a letter translated into German that we handed to everyone we met. They read it curiously, but always finished reading the letter with a shake of their head and a simple "no". That was all they could communicate, because none of them spoke English. But shaking the head is (mostly) universal, and we understood quickly that nobody knew where this farm was.







So the directions that we had gotten from a relative who had been there before led us to the right area, but we never quite nailed down which one was the right farm house. All the same, we had a great time. I ended the little adventure with a quick run behind a shed...when I emerged, Jeremy was ready with his camera to capture me holding up a victorious "one" and "two". Can you guess what I did behind that barn?



All in all, a very triumphant time in Switzerland.

June 24, 2010

Spain

We started our trip in Spain, spending 3 1/2 days in Madrid and 2 days in Barcelona. We absolutely loved Spain. It was really fun that we were able to speak the language, and it was fun for me to watch Jeremy explore the different facets of the Spanish culture--both goods and bads.

Here are some aspects of Spain that we enjoyed:

...In Madrid, the metro was super easy to figure out, and made getting around to different parts of town very easy and enjoyable. Our favorite part of the metro was the voices that announced different stops. "Proxima Estacion (said in man's voice), Chueca (said in woman's voice).

...We loved our hostel in Spain. It was hot and loud, but cozy and located really close to a cute plaza and a metro stop.

...One of my friends commented on my facebook pictures that she thought it was funny how many pictures I had of food. What can I say? We loved the food. Everywhere we went. Food Food Food. And in Spain, I was especially in heaven. I loved the pastries, and had at least one every day I was there.



Also, I loved the candy (as I mentioned in my post before the trip...) and spent quite a few more Euros than was maybe necessary on those delicious sweet gummies. I'm sure my dentist will be impressed.



We love-love-loved the Tapas. This was Jeremy's first experience with Tapas, and they did not disappoint. Our favorite was Patatas Ali-Oli (french fried potatos with a mayonnaise/garlic sauce. It's amazing.) and then this really cute Catalunyan restaurant we went to served the best tapas we had, included skewered mushroom/shrimp, which was my favorite of the trip.







The yummiest beverage we had was Sangria, a mix of red wine, orange juice, and sugar. It was a delicious refresher on the hot days when we had been walking for hours. Jeremy and I already have plans to try to reproduce it...but I guess technically to reproduce the entire experience we would have to walk around in the blistering heat for two hours without a rest and THEN sit down and drink some heavenly Sangria. Maybe not.



And the orange juice. Oh the orange juice. Fresh squeezed by this magical machine, I ordered a cute little glass of it every chance I could get.



...We did discover (well, I remembered this from last time) that Spaniards happen to be a very...loud...group of people. We know this first hand as we heard the partying and celebrating (that was happening everywhere in the city, I assure you) right outside our hostel window until the not-so-wee (6/7am) hours of the morning. That's right. They were up all night, every night. And they love it. I actually have a missionary friend who theorizes that Spaniards need less sleep than the average human being. How else could they party so long and still function like normal human beings, with jobs and everything? This isn't just the kids partying. These are people in their late twenties with jobs and responsibilities. My only thought is that maybe the siesta Spain shuts down for gives them a little bit of extra rest needed to continue to thrive in their cherished night-life. All in all, though it was a very loud experience, we couldn't fault them for their night life...and I suppose if we lived there long term, we would just have to adopt the mentality of "if you can't beat em, join em."

...One of the funny things we experienced in Spain, both Madrid and Barcelona, is that when you are walking in the plazas and down sidewalks, people will just walk right into you without saying excuse me or anything. I don't know if this is just part of their lack of need for personal space or what, but it became a running joke for us. This actually happened to us in Rome too, which was a lot more fun, because then we could dramatically say "Eh, scusi!"

...We took a flight from Madrid to Barcelona, and our flight left at 8:00 in the morning, which meant we wanted to be there at 6:00. Unfortunately, the metro didn't open until 6, and then we had a 45 minute ride to the airport from where we were staying in the middle of the city. So that turned into quite the "Home Alone" experience, that included us running through the airport, huffing and puffing, looking frantically for the right counters (it was extremely confusing) and finally collapsing into the waiting area, tickets in hand, thankful beyond belief that we had made our flight. It was the first of many travel adventures for us.

...I found the old ladies in Spain adorable!! They will dress up just to go walk around the plaza. This group of ladies (though I couldn't discreetly get a picture of their faces) was particularly adorable to me.




..In Barcelona, we absolutely loved the architecture by Gaudi. La Sagrada Familia and La Casa Batllo were both very beautiful and unique. We unfortunately didn't get to enter La Casa Batllo, which according to some pictures we saw in a guidebook is amazing inside, but we still enjoyed the outside.



La Sagrada Familia



La Casa Batllo

...And Barcelona was just amazing. It was our favorite place of the whole trip. The people were so kind, the beach was amazing (super warm, but with a cool breeze blowing the whole time) and the food was delicious. We had a blast. And we definitely want to return to spend more time looking around the city. The funniest part of Barcelona for me was that I was craving ice cream SUPER badly for hours, and we walked everywhere and could not for the life of us find an ice cream store. And then, finally, we spotted one in the distance. And then, twenty feet down the street from it, was another ice cream store. Two ice cream shops, literally neighbors. Amazing. Thanks Spain. I was tempted to get ice cream at both places, just to prove a point (I'm not sure what that point was, other than that I love ice cream), but I decided that being a glutton was not one of my vacation goals, so I stuck with two scoops from one place.

All in all, Spain was very good to us. We can't wait to return some day. Hasta Luego, Espana.

June 21, 2010

You Know You're in Europe if...

...you pay 2 francs/euros to use the bathroom
...you refer to said restroom as the "water closet" (WC)
...you find yourself celebrating (possibly out loud) when restroom (that you paid 2 francs to use) has paper towels
...you refer to Diet Coke as Coca Cola Light
...you are willing to pay 6 Swiss francs (approximately $6) for a small bottle of said Coca Cola Light
...you are served Coca Cola Light in small wine glass with lemon (so fancy!)
...you (choke) don't get...free...refills (sob)
...you find yourself pretending to understand when people speak of measurements in kilometers or centigrade
...you eat delicious, lighter and sweeter and more-perfect- than- you- knew- was- possible pastries every morning...and afternoon...and night
...you're running down non-moving escalators to catch the next train
...your menu comes in four different languages
...you don't eat dinner until 10:30 pm (this is specific to Spain)
...there is a bank on every corner (specific to Switzerland)
...the streets are narrower than my apartment hallway (Spain and Rome, mainly)
...the cars are smaller than the toy trucks toddlers drive in the U.S.
...there is a candy or chocolate or ice cream store on every corner (Europe=heaven in this regard)