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St. Hot Mess

 

St Hot Mess

“Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” -St. Catherine of Siena

St. Hot MessSt. Catherine of Siena’s famous quote is enjoying quite a heyday in Catholic art and media. It’s everywhere, from cute wall hangings on Etsy to your favorite Catholic Pinboard and the opening line of every other new blog post about self-confidence or finding personal fulfillment in one’s faith. The quotation, also rendered as “Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire,” encourages Catholics to honor the Lord by being no more and no less than our unique and individual selves, responding fully to God’s plan for our lives and changing the world in the process. It’s a beautiful, inspiring vision: a holy revolution of Christians who are assured of themselves and their God, marching forth to bring sweeping change to the societies around them.

But what if you’re not sure who God meant you to be? What if you struggle with God’s personal plan for you? What if the way you were created, so fearfully and wonderfully made, is obscured behind a mask of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, illness or grief? What if you actually kind of dislike the way you are or wish that you were more like someone else, someone healthy and happy?

Don’t wait to set the world on fire. Don’t wait for happiness or inner peace, for energy, healing, or health.

Change the world now.

“Easy for you to say,” I can hear you snarking. “I can’t even get out of bed in the morning, let alone ‘set the world on fire!’ I have none of the holy work ethic of a St. Catherine of Siena, none of the bubbling Christian joy of a Pope Francis, and absolutely zero of the heroic suffering of the early Christian martyrs. I’m grumpy and tired. I worry about everything. I’m depressed, I hurt, and I can’t even get my kids to change their clothes. Changing the world is for other people—not someone as broken as me.”

If St. Catherine’s “set the world on fire” doesn’t strike a chord, consider it another way.

In journalist Clare Boothe Luce’s 1952 anthology Saints For Now, the author Evelyn Waugh (himself a grouchy, snarky Catholic who struggled with mental illness) wrote this strikingly similar sentiment:

“We can invoke the help of the saints and study the workings of God in them, but if we delude ourselves that we are walking in their shoes, seeing through their eyes and thinking with their minds, we lose sight of the one certain course of our salvation. There is only one saint that ‘Bridget Hogan’ can actually become, St. Bridget Hogan, and that saint she must become, either here or in the fires of purgatory, if she is to enter heaven. She cannot slip through in fancy dress, made up as Joan of Arc.”

oscarwildeSo be the saint of anxiety, of clinical depression, of bipolar disorder. Be the saint who has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. The one whose house is dirty, whose arms and legs and heart ache, who needs extra naps and drinks pots of coffee and takes meds. Be that saint by asking God to sanctify your unique and individual struggle. You may not have the get-up-and-go of St. Catherine, but your sanctity might be found in completing a simple household chore for the good of your family or whispering out a prayer from that bed you can’t get out of. You might not be a ray of Christian sunshine, but you may change the world by bringing the Gospel to others stuck in the dark. You may never have all the peace, or energy, or health you want in this life, but your personal sainthood might be achieved in the truly heroic witness it takes to live for Christ day by day from the cross of mental illness.

Don’t wait. Don’t wait on any earthly thing. If God in his mystery allowed your life to be chaotic, set the world on holy fire with your own hot mess.

Be who God meant you to be, with all the strengths and weaknesses he bestowed on you and all the brokenness Christ died to make beautiful. You, St. Hot Mess, are the only saint you’ll ever have a shot at being. So don’t wait to be someone else. Change the world now.

RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

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Coming Out: One Woman’s Story of Living With Bipolar Disorder

I did it.  I made a resolution to ‘come out’ to my kids at the dawn of the New Year, and I did.  Call me crazy if you want.  I prefer the word bipolar. But, I am also a Catholic, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, a student, a sister, a daughter and a friend.

I had to ‘come out’ with my bipolar disorder because I know kids internalize things.  I can’t imagine the uncertainty of wondering, “Which mommy am I going to wake up to today?”  If mommy is angry, irritable, says mean things, and then dances around the floor and sings and jokes in one morning, I need them to understand it is not in response to them, but as a reaction to faulty chemistry.  Daily medication eases the symptoms but cannot fully control them.

This is my cross.  I have been misunderstood, teased, called names and worst of all, I have been judged.  I have lost friends, have been rejected from social groups and live in a near constant state of paranoia.  This is particularly painful because I am an extrovert – and, as we know, God created us to live in community.  Every day I struggle to keep my ‘edit’ button on so I can stop myself before I make another mess!  I have been told I need to pray more, I need to fast more, I need to…..as if it is my fault and I can change it.  If prayer – and begging – could cure me, I wouldn’t be writing this.

I am blessed to have a wonderful husband who shares my cross and loves me unconditionally.  He sees me beyond the disorder and knows my heart for God, my heart for my family and for other people.  I have always felt Jesus in my life as well…picking me and brushing me off after each episode.  My recent return to the Catholic Church has provided the ultimate spiritual peace.  I don’t know I how I made it for so long without Mary.  She is my go-to woman, my role model and my hope.  She is the mother to my children that I cannot be.  She is the mother of God, and she prays for me! Most importantly, through my Catholic faith, I have been able to release the guilt I have attached to my disorder (so much for Catholic guilt!).

There are recent findings on genetic markers for bipolar disorder, but still no clear understanding of what causes this chemical imbalance.  It does run in families, although not everyone is accurately diagnosed.  Bipolar disorder, like so many disorders, is a continuum.  Some are low on the continuum and can manage their disorder with medications and therapy.  Others are high on the continuum and their lives are a near constant effort to find the right combination of medications and therapy.  I fit somewhere in the middle.

It is a living manifestation of a condition that is often brushed off.  The brush off comments include, ‘we all feel that way sometimes,’ or ‘everyone has down days.’  That is true, all humans have a cyclical pattern – but most cycle within a normal range and cycle at manageable or predictable intervals (e.g. ‘that time of month’).  With bipolar disorder, the cycles are inconsistent, unpredictable and can take a person from “the world and everything in it is great” to “I can’t do this for another minute, I am so angry and agitated I can’t think” coupled with suicidal ideation – in one day…. or several times throughout the day.

The American Psychiatric Association defines bipolar symptoms as a combination of at least three of these at the same time:

  1.  Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  2. Decreased need for sleep
  3. Talkativeness
  4. Racing thoughts
  5. Distractibility
  6. Increased physical, mental, sexual activity
  7. Reckless behavior and impulsiveness such as spending sprees, promiscuity, erratic driving, foolish business investments

I find it ironic that there are seven symptoms– the seven “Deadly Sins” of bipolar disorder.  But, that is my final challenge:  understanding the difference between sin (willful disobedience) – and disorder (would never, in a million years, act that way if I had control).  I have learned that it is not an excuse for all behavior, but a reason for some behavior.

“Coming out” to my kids was not easy, but necessary.  The result of bipolar disorder is that my actions are often not aligned to my heart.  When I teach my children an aspect of the Catholic faith, and then act in opposition to that, I don’t want them to think I am a hypocrite.  I want them to know that I struggle to live our faith, and that I won’t give up when my challenges seem too great.  I want them to know that Mary is the perfect mother, and I am just simply doing my best.

::bio:: I am a Catholic revert and thank God every day for bringing me back home!  I am completing a doctorate, homeschool my children and am active in my parish.