A Sharing for Mental Health Day

I’m so glad I didn’t give up on life all those years ago. When I think about all the new friends I never would have met; all the sunrises and sunsets I would have missed; all the adventures and travels I never would have had; and the hugs and smiles I wouldn’t have been able to exchange – I’m just so glad I made the choice to stick around.

Facebook sent me a message, suggesting that as a “community leader” (?) I post something for Mental Health Day – which is, I’ve learned, tomorrow.

So I went back to some of the posts I’ve written about my own experiences with depression – my first experience in 2007-2008; and my second experience in 2011-2012. The first experience with depression came from something “inside” me – I felt I “lost” myself for a year and had to work to find myself again. I came to see during this time that if I could love others, I had worth. If others could love me, there was hope. (I recount my “Year of Insanity” in The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Middle Book.)

My second experience with depression was extrinsic, rather than intrinsic – this one was caused by external stress that, I thought, I had no control over and that, I thought, I was powerless to change. I felt trapped and couldn’t see any way to make things better for myself.

Unlike my first experience with mental illness, this time I did see a professional for help. When I called my health insurance hotline to get help, the woman on the other end of the line asked me a series of questions. One of the last questions she asked me was also one of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer in my life: “Have you contemplated suicide in the last week?” I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I told her I had. She asked me if I’d contemplated a method. I told her I had.

She asked me why I hadn’t gone through with it, and I told her I hadn’t gone through with it because “I am a chicken shit, and I thought it might hurt.” She started laughing then – which is the best thing she could have done for me – and told me I’d given her a really healthy answer.

The woman on the other end of the phone found a counselor for me, but when I called the counselor’s office I learned this woman was a psychologist – and I told her office that I didn’t really need a psychologist – my problem wasn’t that serious – I just needed a counselor. The receptionist said she’d have the psychologist call me back. When the psychologist called me back, she assured me that she was, basically, just a counselor with a doctor’s degree and encouraged me to come in and see her. So I did.

My first session with her I just sat there and blubbered. My second session with her I blubbered some more and told her all the things I was expected to change in my current teaching position – things I had no control over – and I didn’t see how I could change “…and…and…”

The psychologist asked me, “Do you plan to go back to that position?” I told her I didn’t see how I could. And then she asked me a question that completely changed the course of my life: “Then why do you need to fix these things?”

Whoah. It was like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders in that moment. I saw that these things weren’t my problem anymore. I didn’t need to worry about them!

From that moment on our sessions together became all about creating a new life for myself. She helped me recognize the things in my life that were making me, literally, crazy, and that I needed to throw out; and she helped me recognize the things I needed to bring more into my life – creative things, artsy things, Soul-things. She helped me see there WERE options and I wasn’t trapped.

I ended up being led to apply for a new teaching position – working with students who were dealing with challenges and obstacles in their young lives that most of us have never had to experience. I found a healthy purpose in my professional life again, and a renewed love for teaching.

From this experience, I learned that we’re never trapped, and there’s always an answer – even if we can’t see it right away. As my wonderful friend, Laura Lavigne, says: “There are things we know we know. There are things we know we don’t know. And there are a whole lot of things we don’t know we don’t know – and THAT is where the magic is!”

This experience happened more than a decade ago. I’m retired now. I’m so glad I was able to retire from my career feeling good about teaching, and about myself. I got to give the keynote speech and sing a song at the graduation that year, and celebrate the beauty of education. And all of that happened because I found the courage to make that phone call, and find help for myself. Talking with a professional helped me unlock the mental bars and see the possibilities for my life.

-Karen Molenaar Terrell

“Unthinkably good things can happen even late in the game. It’s such a surprise.”
Under the Tuscan Sun

At the Age of 51 I Went Insane

“Sometimes you have to lose your mind to come to your senses.”
– from The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

At the age of 51 I went insane. I did not like it so much. But I learned a lot from it.

Eckhart Tolle tells us: “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.” He asks, “How do you know this is the experience you need? Because,” he says, “this is the experience you are having at this moment.” I really like how he puts that. My thought is that something is only a challenge to us when there’s a lesson to learn from it. Two people, in other words, might find themselves in identical situations – and one of those people might coast through the situation, and the other might stumble through it – depending on where each individual is in her spiritual progress.

I did a lot of stumbling during The Year of Insanity, and I learned a whole lot of lessons. It was, in essence, my last hurrah – my final experience with the lessons of “callow youth” and ego, before I could move on to the next stage in my development.

During The Year of Insanity it seemed I was confronted with temptation at every turn. I had to come face-to-face with ego, vanity, pride, insecurity, and addiction to praise. It was a really difficult time for me. It felt like I was at the bottom of a deep, dark pit, and I didn’t know how I was going to get out of there. I lost weight, couldn’t sleep, had a constant dialogue going on inside my head about the past and the future, had to keep moving – trying to get away from myself, I guess – and had an actual physical heartache from the sadness I felt. There were times when I just wanted to hide myself away from the world, and not have to deal with this stuff anymore. There were times when I was so full of guilt about the feelings I was having that I just wanted to kill myself, and be done with it. There was a constant battle going on inside me, and it was really wearing.

If somebody had tried to talk to me about mental illness before I’d had this experience, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were going on about. Mental illness was something that happened to “other” people. Mental illness was not something a madcap Christian Scientist would ever know anything about, right?

Yeesh.

I might have chosen, with good reason, to seek professional help during this time. I might have chosen, again with good reason, to take anti-depressant medications. And after having been through this experience, I can tell you – without any hesitation – that I do not fault anyone, at all, for seeking professional help and using medication if they think it’ll help them get through the kind of thing I went through during that year. And I can also understand why it might be hard for people to cogitate why I didn’t do those things in an effort to help myself.

All I can tell you, really, is that there was some part of me that felt I needed this experience – that I needed to feel the full depth and breadth of it – and there was a part of me that believed if I could survive this, I would come out of it much wiser and stronger than before I went into it. I guess I calculated the costs and rewards and decided the rewards would be worth it. If I could survive.

I give credit to Christian Science, and to my Father-Mother God, for getting me through this time. I absolutely know I wouldn’t have been able to make it without the understanding of God, Good, I’d gained through my study of Christian Science.

I also need to give thanks to three authors whose writings meant a great deal to me while I was working my way through that year. I’ve already quoted one of them – Eckhart Tolle – a contemporary thinker who’s had his own experience with depression, and has generously shared his wisdom and insights about that in several recent best-sellers. The second of the three authors was a liberal Christian minister of the late 1800’s named Henry Drummond. His book, The Greatest Thing in the World, was chock full of wise and wonderful thoughts on love – “the greatest thing in the world.” The third author was a man named Edward A. Kimball, an inspiring and mentally-rousing Christian Science lecturer and teacher during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

Regarding my desire to hide myself away from temptation, Henry Drummond had this to say to me: “Above all, do not resent temptation; do not be perplexed because it seems to thicken round you more and more, and ceases neither for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That is your practice. That is the practice which God appoints you, and it is having its work in making you patient, and humble, and generous, and unselfish, and kind, and courteous.” Drummond goes on to say: “Therefore keep in the midst of life. Do not isolate yourself. Be among men and among things, and among troubles, and difficulties, and obstacles… Talent develops itself in solitude – the talent of prayer, of faith, of meditation, of seeing the unseen; character grows in the stream of the world’s life. That chiefly is where men are to learn love.”

Drummond’s admonition to “keep in the midst of life” was really helpful to me. His words helped me look at the challenges I was facing as blessings and needed lessons in my path towards progress, rather than as proof of my weakness, or a reason to feel guilty.

Edward A. Kimball, too, was helpful to me in dealing with the feelings of guilt that seemed to be a symptom of the depression. In his book, Lectures and Articles on Christian Science, Kimball writes, “It won’t do you a particle of good to enter upon a career of self-condemnation. Remorse never got anybody into heaven. A sense of regret and all that sort of thing is not the process. The process is reform; it is change; it is correction…”

Kimball writes, “…a purely human giving up endeavor does not give up, but does involve the scientist in a sense of greater fear. Evil is never disposed of as though it were something. It cannot be given up as though it were something…Try to realize that through Christian Science, you are constantly gaining that which will do everything for you, and that you will succeed according to the gaining process.”

This thought helped bring me peace – the insight that trying to fight an addiction by turning it into A Big Obstacle and using human will to force myself to “give it up” wasn’t the way for me to be healed – but that I needed to fill up the holes and emptiness I felt in my life by gaining an understanding of what constitutes true happiness and filling my life up with that. As my friend, Sabra, pointed out to me, we don’t remember the last time we laid down our dollies and moved on to other joys – giving up my toys was not a Major Event or something I had to force upon myself – it was a natural step in my forward way. And it can be that way with every forward step we take – we aren’t so much “giving up” something, as we are gaining something.

Here’s some of what I gained during this time: a new understanding and appreciation of love; a greater sense of gratitude for the power of a moment, and of a good, deep breath; a greater appreciation for choice; renewed gratitude for all the beauty in Nature and mankind; greater humility, empathy and compassion; and a greater commitment to my own spiritual journey. I’d entered The Year of Insanity an untested “youth” – gliding through life’s challenges on a kind of cavalier, simple joy, without really having to put much work or effort into my mental frame of mind. By the time I exited that year I had a much deeper understanding of God, and who I am, as God’s expression.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell, from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Middle Book

Dear Lord and Father of us all,|
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind;
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

Breathe through the pulses of desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from us now the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
– John Greenleaf Whittier

Lake Padden Forest (Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell)

The Rebirth Ring

Quote

I wore my “rebirth” ring the other day. A barista ringing me up complimented me on it and asked me about it. I told her it was my “rebirth” ring – that I’d bought it after I’d come through a really challenging time. I pointed to the sapphire on one side – “I was born in September – and that’s the stone for September” – and the pearl in the middle – “pearls are created from struggle – something beautiful from something challenging” – and the sapphire on the other side – “I came through the challenge and was reborn.” She said that was really beautiful, and I thanked her and nodded, and remembered, again, my Year of Insanity…

Ten years ago I went through a massive depression – I’d never experienced anything like that before – I’d always been a kind of naturally happy person – but I went through a year that was, literally, a life and death struggle for me. I couldn’t eat, contemplated ending my life, had a constant dialogue going on in my head, seriously doubted if I would ever feel happy again. It is not an exaggeration to say I wasn’t sure I’d make it through.

It was during this time that I discovered I had a wealth of friendships and love and people who cared about me. It was during this time that I also discovered how strong I am. I gained a confidence that I hadn’t really had before. I came to appreciate what’s really important in life – not material stuff – but love and kindness and integrity and the ability to laugh at ourselves. I have never felt impoverished since going through this. I’ve come to see I’m wealthy beyond anything I’d imagined.

People sometimes talk cavalierly about “choosing joy.” During the Year of Insanity it didn’t feel like joy was a “choice” for me. But now that I have my choice back – yeah, I choose joy. I’ve come to realize that life really is a matter of perspective – of how we look at things.

People have told me that they want my life – or that they love my life. And I guess I should feel flattered by that maybe. But…the thing is… love your own life. Make something of that precious gift you’ve been given. By saying you want my life you discount my struggles, and you discount your own possibilities.

I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. Never. Not even when I was going through my Year of Insanity. I knew, even then, that EVERYone has challenges in their lives. I knew, even then, that most of the challenges in my life were ones I’d created for myself and that it was my job to learn from them.

You – yes, you – have the power to bring love and kindness to someone else – even when you’re going through your own times of insanity. You have a purpose, and a reason for being here. As long as you can love there’s a reason for you to live – I realized that during my challenging time – and it helped me get through it. Let me repeat that: AS LONG AS YOU CAN LOVE THERE’S A REASON FOR YOU TO LIVE. There are people who need you here. Please don’t give up on your life.

You are loved.

via The Rebirth Ring

cropped-as-long-as-you-can-love

The Middle Book

Yeah, I think what we’ve got here is a case of “middle child syndrome.” My middle child of books, The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Middle Book, has been a little over-looked lately. So maybe it’s time to give her some attention. 🙂 Here are some excerpts…

But this is one of his clouded times and
He’ll out of ‘em enough to shake the tree
Of life itself and bring down fruit unheard of…

– Edwin Arlington Robinson

***

My son and I recently talked about my previous book, Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist. I told him that book was true for the person I was then, and I’m glad I wrote it, but I couldn’t write the same book now. Andrew told me I should write another book then, for this time in my life. I told him that my recent life experience has been kind of dark. He said I should write about that then, and he started talking about trilogies – how almost every life story has three parts – the first book is usually happy and innocent, the second one is dark and challenging, and the last book is the triumph book. Andrew said it was time for me to write “the middle book.” He assures me the book about the golden years will come, but he says that book can’t come until the middle book gets written.

So what you see here is me sucking it up and writing The Middle Book…

***

At the age of 51 I went insane. I did not like it so much. But I learned a lot from it.

Eckhart Tolle tells us: “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.” He asks, “How do you know this is the experience you need? Because,” he says, “this is the experience you are having at this moment.” I really like how he puts that. My thought is that something is only a challenge to us when there’s a lesson to learn from it. Two people, in other words, might find themselves in identical situations – and one of those people might coast through the situation, and the other might stumble through it – depending on where each individual is in her spiritual progress.

If somebody had tried to talk to me about mental illness before I’d had this experience, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were going on about. Mental illness was something that happened to “other” people.  Mental illness was not something a madcap Christian Scientist would ever know anything about, right?

Yeesh.

Here’s some of what I gained during this time: a new understanding and appreciation of love; a greater sense of gratitude for the power of a moment, and of a good, deep breath; a greater appreciation for choice; renewed gratitude for all the beauty in Nature and mankind; greater humility, empathy and compassion; and a greater commitment to my own spiritual journey.  I’d entered The Year of Insanity an untested “youth” – gliding through life’s challenges on a kind of cavalier, simple joy, without really having to put much work or effort into my mental frame of mind. By the time I exited that year I had a much deeper understanding of God, and who I am, as God’s expression.

The_Madcap_Christian_Cover_for_Kindle (2)

Things I Learned from the Year of Insanity

(All photos [except the Big Hand Karen photo, by Scott Terrell], were taken by Karen Molenaar Terrell.)

The other afternoon my husband and I went out for dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant. For whatever reason, I was feeling cranky.  Put upon. Impatient.  And then I saw the leaves on the tree outside the window, and I remembered what those leaves had meant to me during the Year of Insanity. I remembered a time when I hadn’t had a choice in how I felt – when I couldn’t seem to “make” myself happy, and had no control over what was going on inside my head. And I remembered the pledge I’d made to myself at the end of that long, dark time when I had a choice again: So long as I had a choice, I would never, ever choose sadness over joy. And right that moment, I let go of the crankiness, and, watching the leaves flicker on that tree outside the window, chose to enjoy my time at the restaurant.

The Year of Insanity was a whopper for me. I’d never experienced anything like it before – and don’t see a need to ever experience anything like it again 🙂 – but, looking back, I am convinced that I needed to go through that time. I learned so much from it – one of the chief things being that even when I’m depressed, I can be happy – even when I’m sad, I can experience joy. Another important lesson was that the pain passes – always, always. It doesn’t last forever. I learned I was strong. I learned I could survive.

There were certain things during that year that seemed to bring me peace when i looked on them. I can’t tell you why my distressed thought was comforted by these things – why they were the objects that seemed to calm me during that time – but I can tell you what they were: The leaves on that particular tree outside the Italian restaurant; sailboats on the bay; my hands; butterflies and dragonflies; seagulls in flight; and big bright sunflowers.

One of the things that happened to me during that time – and that has stayed with me – is that I began to – I was forced to, really – tune in more intensely to the beauty around me – I began to notice things in my surroundings that I might have just walked by in the past: Little insects on flowers; all the varied colors in the sky and water; clouds – I’d never so appreciated clouds before this time! The insanity forced me to live moment-by-moment, taking each moment one at a time – being grateful to have survived that moment before moving on to the next one. I learned to stop the constant dialogue in my head by taking a deep breath and focusing on the gifts of that moment – the dragonfly over the water; the sailboat gliding by; the flickering leaves on the tree. “Thank you, God, thank you, God, thank you, God” became my mantra. 

And one day I woke up and came back to myself.  I remember walking down the ramp toward the boardwalk – the bay stretched out in front of me, and a ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds and sparkling on the water – and I was free.

 The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. – Robert Green Ingersoll

 Step by step will those who trust Him find that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Mary Baker Eddy

(More about the Year of Insanity can be found in The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Middle Book.)

http://www.amazon.com/Madcap-Christian-Scientists-Middle-Book/dp/1477442456/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1378217527&sr=8-1